HUNDREDS of Scottish-trained nurses are registering for a new career overseas in a move that will intensify the NHS staffing crisis.

New figures show that 1,609 Scots-qualified nurses trained north of the Border have filled in verification requests from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) – which enables them to practise in other countries – over the past five years.

It comes asVacancy rates for nurses and midwives reached a record high last year and left wards across the country struggling to plug the gaps.

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The NMC statistics follow similar figures last October that showe came after it emerged in October that as many as 3,000 Scottish-trained doctors have left the country since 2008. Public spending watchdog Audit Scotland has warned the NHS in Scotland is facing “urgent workforce challenges” but there is no long-term recruitment plan to cope with rising patient demand.

Staffing levels are currently at a record high having risen by 11 per cent in recent years to 139,400, 3while spending on NHS staff amounted to £6.5 billion last year.

But Audit Scotland warns of “urgent challenges” facing the workforce amid signs that services are under “increasing stress.”

Spending on health service agency staff has also more than doubled to £171.4 million in the past five years to deal with the impact of shortages.

Now Conservative health spokesman Miles Briggs has warned the “brain drain” is not only leaving hospitals short of key staff, but short-changing the training system which is meant to generate medics for Scotland’s NHS.

He said: “It’s extremely worrying that hundreds of nurses every year signal their intention to leave and work abroad. At a time when recruitment is so challenging, the last thing we need is Scottish-trained nurses upping sticks and moving elsewhere.

“Clearly more needs to be done to incentivise them to stay, otherwise patients and the staff left behind will be the ones who suffer the consequences. In an organisation the size of the NHS there will always be departures to work overseas, but for more than 1,600 to have indicated they want to leave in the past five years is alarming.”

Nursing unions have warned of rising stress and staff faced with “unsafe” demands with nearly one in 20 nursing or midwife posts in Scotland unfilled.

New recruits to nursing actually fell 15 per cent in 2014/15 and then a further seven per cent in 2015/16, with projections of a 9.6 per cent vacancy rate – meaning more than 5,000 nursing posts unfilled – by 2022.

Norman Provan, RCN Scotland Associate Director, added: “Scotland is already experiencing the impact of not training, recruiting, and retaining enough nurses. NHS workforce data published by ISD in December 2017 revealed that the nursing and midwifery vacancy rate stands at 4.5 per cent, with nearly one in twenty posts being vacant.

“Nurses and health care support workers wanting to do their very best for patients are too often coming up against the reality of vacancies in the workforce.

“The prolonged pay freeze and workload challenges are adding to the anger of nursing staff who are working under enormous pressure, constantly being asked to do more with less.

“To avoid an even greater shortage of skilled nurses in the future, we need to find new ways to make nursing an attractive career choice.”