A NEW expert group has been set up to improve working conditions for nurses and midwives.

The Nursing and Midwifery Taskforce will develop plans for retaining the existing workforce, as well as looking at recruitment.

It will be chaired by Health Secretary Humza Yousaf with input from academics, NHS leaders, the Scottish Government, and representatives from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and the Royal College of Midwives.

It comes after NHS workers in Scotland were offered a record pay deal, which would see earnings for the the lowest paid staff increase by around 19 per cent over two years.

The combined offer for 2022/23 and 2023/24 - backdated to April 2022 - will cost over £1 billion and includes one-off lump sums for staff ranging from £387 to £939 depending on banding.

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The deal would cover all NHS staff on Agenda for Change (AfC) contracts, which include nurses, midwives, porters and healthcare professionals such as physiotherapists and psychologists, but not doctors.

The RCN has recommended that its members vote to accept the new pay deal - worth around 14-16% over two years to most nurses - but if rejected could move to industrial action, with a mandate for strikes still in place.

The Herald: Nursing and Midwifery vacancy rates in Scotland have increased rapidly since 2021Nursing and Midwifery vacancy rates in Scotland have increased rapidly since 2021 (Image: NHS Scotland/Turas)

Mr Yousaf said: "Our nursing and midwifery staff have repeatedly shown their commitment to the NHS and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude, particularly for their efforts during the pandemic."

He said the new taskforce "will help ensure that Scotland's nurses and midwives are not only the best paid in the UK, but they have the best conditions and career opportunities as well".

The Scottish Government said the taskforce will consider "how to build exemplary workforce cultures" as well as "improving working conditions, facilities and learning opportunities".

The vacancy rate for nurses and midwives in NHS Scotland has climbed from a low of 3.5% in March 2015 to 9% by September 2022.

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An exodus of experienced staff is a major factor. Figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council show that in the 12 months to September 2022, a total of 2,690 Scotland-based nurses and midwives quit the professional register - an increase of 13% compared to the previous year.

RCN Scotland director Colin Poolman welcomed the creation of the taskforce, saying it "demonstrates that the voice of nursing is being heard".

Mr Poolman said: “Pay is important, but our members have been clear that it is the chronic staff shortages and service pressures that led them to vote for strike action.

“The RCN will hold the Scottish government to its commitment to deliver a sustainable nursing workforce.

"Together with our partners on the Taskforce we will ensure that the personal experiences and views of our members, the wider nursing workforce and the nurses of the future, informs and shapes this essential work.”

Julie Lamberth, a theatre nurse and chair of the RCN Scotland board, said the taskforce "presents the opportunity to address the workforce crisis".

She said: “For too long our concerns about the future of our profession have been ignored. Our mandate for strike action has forced the Scottish government to sit up and listen.

“Nursing can be the most rewarding and fulfilling career, but I’ve seen too many of my colleagues turn their back on the profession.”

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Scotland's Chief Midwifery Officer, Justine Craig, said: "We look forward to working with the Cabinet Secretary and other members in driving forward the ambition to build a sustainable and skilled nursing and midwifery workforce of the future."

Chief Nursing Officer, Professor Alex McMahon, said a plan is needed that "will support both professions in Scotland as we consider how to improve working conditions for nurses and boost workforce numbers."