Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed that staffing levels in Scotland’s NHS are to be enshrined in law.
The first minister set out the plans for new legislation to reinforce patient safety when she addressed the Royal College of Nursing congress in Glasgow.
Her speech was delivered as new figures showed a steep rise in the number of nursing posts lying vacant for three months or more at NHS Grampian.
The official statistics from NHS Scotland show an increase from 115 in March 2015 to 180 in March this year – a 57% rise in the space of a year.
Aberdeenshire West MSP Alex Burnett said “patients are paying the price” because “the government hasn’t trained enough nurses”.
But Ms Sturgeon said: “Since this government came to power in 2007 there are more than 2,300 extra qualified nurses and midwives working in our NHS.
“In addition to having record staffing levels, Scotland has led the UK in the development of mandatory nursing and midwifery workload and workforce planning tools that help health boards to plan for the number of staff they require.
“By using these tools, health boards can make sure they have the right number of staff to provide the best possible care for patients in a variety of specialities.
“To build on our record, we will enshrine these planning tools in law and examine what other areas of the workforce would benefit from having similar tools developed, which will further strengthen our commitment to patient safety in our wards.”
Other parties, such as Scottish Labour, have welcomed the move.
The party’s health spokesman Anas Sarwar said: “This is a worthwhile commitment that we would support, but it has to be backed up by the adequate funding so it can actually be delivered.”
But Tory MSP Mr Burnett said: “It’s clear the Scottish Government, over several years, has failed in terms of forward planning for the NHS, and now patients in Grampian are paying the price.
“The government hasn’t trained enough nurses, despite knowing for some time about a retirement boom among nurses in addition to an ageing population.
“Ministers need to act to help out NHS Grampian before the problem gets even worse.”