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Scottish Government accused of “struggling” to meet health visitor target

Shona Robison
Shona Robison

Opposition MSPs have claimed the Scottish Government is struggling to meet a pledge to boost health visitor numbers after vacancy rates hit a three-year high.

The latest official figures show there are 144 health visitor vacancies out of 1,448 posts across Scotland.

This gives a vacancy rate of 9.1%, which is an increase on the same period in the previous year, when the 93 vacancies from 1,291 staff gave a rate of 6.3%.

The Scottish Government announced a £40million investment plan in June 2014 to create 500 extra health visitor jobs in the next four years.

But the latest vacancy figures, of which 62 have been empty for more than three months, is the highest since data was first reported in March 2015.

NHS Highland had 3.4 vacancies out of its establishment of 19.9 staff in December, while NHS Grampian had 12 vacancies out of 147.9 posts in the same month.

NHS Western Isles had two of its 10 health visitor jobs unfilled.

The Scottish Conservatives said the current workforce trends suggest the SNP is not likely to hit its target but Health Secretary Shona Robison continues to maintain it is “on track”.

Tory public health spokeswoman Annie Wells said: “The SNP made a promise to secure 500 extra health visitors, a commitment we welcomed, but it looks like that is going to fall short.

“For any department to have a vacancy rate of nearly 10% is alarming, and shows the strain workers must be under.

“It follows a pattern across health and other public services of not enough staffing and poor workforce planning.

“Health visitors are crucial for a range of needs in our society, it’s not something we can afford to scrimp on.”

Ms Robison said: “We are providing funding to health boards to achieve an unprecedented 50% increase in the health visiting workforce and we are on track to deliver 500 health visitor posts by the end of 2018, with over 480 students having completed training and 287 actively in training to December 2017.

“We are working closely with health boards to monitor progress and health boards are accounting for retirals and leavers as part of that process.”

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