BBC Scotland falsely calls a nursing trades union a ‘nursing body’ to authenticate a campaign against a fake staffing crisis

In the repeated TV broadcasts this morning and on the website, we hear/see something along these lines:

‘The public are being urged to back a campaign for tougher legislation to ensure there are enough nurses to deliver high-quality patient care. The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Scotland said the latest NHS workforce data showed the highest number of nursing vacancies ever reported. It said its members were at “breaking point” and it was “time for change”. The nursing body (sic)* has previously called for legislation in each part of the UK to address staffing for safe and effective care.

The RCN is a trades union with a fancy, particularly loyalist name. It is extremely partisan, as it should be, in pursuing the interest of its members, not a ‘body’ charged with the responsibility to use scientifically gathered evidence to support any claims of need for change or of a crisis in resourcing. The Nuffield Trust is a body. So is NHS Scotland or, for teachers, the GTC. The Scottish Government’s departments are ‘bodies’ of that kind. So, when the Scottish Government mention an actual increase in the overall number of nurses, regardless of vacancies at this low level, a responsible news agency should give that some prominence.

Allowing a brief interjection from that real ‘body’, the Scottish Government BBC Scotland allow only:

‘The Scottish government said the number of nurses and midwives had increased by 5.7% since 2007.’

‘Said’; are the Scottish government figures not open to scrutiny and thus trustworthy? BBC Scotland News, quickly returned to selective comment to back up the RCN case:

‘The NHS workforce figures were published by ISD on Tuesday and showed the nursing and midwifery vacancy rate was now at 5.3% – that is 3,311.2 whole time equivalent (WTE) unfilled posts.’

Context to help audiences understand:

Missing from BBC Scotland reporting, as usual, is any kind of context which might help the audience put the figures in context.

First, just how dramatic, even unusual, is a vacancy rate of 5.3% or 1 in 20 staff? Having been required to manage much worse vacancy rates in Higher Education, I struggle to see the problem with 1 in 20. I don’t have national figures, but I suspect around 5% is quite a healthy level, enabling steady staff turnover and the arrival of ‘new blood.’

Second, are Nurse numbers generally rising or falling? The Scottish Government suggest a 5.7% increase since the last days of Labour. In 2018:

‘There were 59,455.9 WTE nursing and midwifery staff in post, representing an annual increase of 0.1% (77.9 WTE). The proportion of qualified nurses and midwives remains similar to last year at 73.0% (43,364.5 WTE).’

Third, how does the NHS Scotland staffing ratio compare with other NHS areas?

How many nurses are there in Scotland? Well, as you see above, there were 59 455 nurses and midwives in Scotland. Now if NHS Scotland is very tightly stretched in terms of nurse staffing, as the RCN suggest, even a small number of vacancies would matter. Let’s have a look at UK staffing levels (can’t seem to find reliable England-only figures) as a comparison to see how they compare.

The UK has a population of 66 643 010 and 690 773 nurses and midwives and so the ratio is one nurse to 96.4 people.

Scotland has a population of 5 254 800 and 59 455 nurses and midwives and so the ratio is one nurse to 88.4 people.

While not denying the possibility of over-stretch, in some areas, this suggests that if it is, in NHS Scotland, then NHS England is in an even worse situation.

  • Using the Latin ‘sic’ to indicate that an error of spelling, grammar, or logic has been quoted, in a medical context, appeals to my sense of humour (sick?).

12 thoughts on “BBC Scotland falsely calls a nursing trades union a ‘nursing body’ to authenticate a campaign against a fake staffing crisis

  1. Ludo Thierry September 5, 2018 / 12:21 pm

    Note for those who have recently voted tory in Dumfries and Galloway area – see this edit of a piece in the Record showing the ageing population and shortage of numbers in the necessary age groups for future Health and Care workforce recruitment. (Despite the best efforts of a Scottish focussed SNP Scottish Govt to make sensible current and future plans). These problems will simply be aggravated by brexit. That’s the logic of voting for the tories I’m afraid – Will such voters wake up to reality or continue to doze their way into Fluffy Mundell’s brexit tory future? The Daily Mail and beeb tell them they’re collapsing under ‘immigration’ – will the Daily Mail be volunteering to get them to the loo and back when they are in their dotage? – no – but Health and Care workers are likely be in mighty short supply as they will doubtless discover. Still time to change your voting habits folks:

    Dumfries and Galloway is rapidly becoming a region of the retired.

    The latest demographic analysis predicts more than 48,000 over 65s enjoying life in the region in 21 years time.

    And not far off ten per cent of them will have seen their 90th birthdays.

    At the other end of the scale the number of 15 to 64 year olds is set to drop by almost 20 per cent to somewhere in the region of 74,000 as the overall population of the region shrinks to around 143,000.

    The figures are included in a plan drawn up by health and social care bosses wrestling with the make up of the workforce needed to cope with the ageing situation in the coming years.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Ludo Thierry September 5, 2018 / 12:43 pm

    Looks like the Archbishop of Canterbury will be applying for membership of the SNP any day now. Well done Justin:

    HOLYROOD should have control over immigration, have £15 billion more in borrowing powers and could get more tax powers as part of a plan to create a new economic settlement for post-Brexit Britain.

    These are among the recommendations of the IPPR’s Commission on Economic Justice, whose members include Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and leading UK figures from business, trade unions and civil society, and which insists the economy is not working and needs “fundamental reform”.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. John September 5, 2018 / 1:21 pm

    You see if you call it a body , it makes it sounds like there is no official agenda there , just telling it as it is . If you say it is a Union , people know you are acting out of self interest in the hope of getting something out of it . Can’t have the public thinking midwives and nurses would be acting out of self interest after just getting a 9% pay rise now can we .

    Liked by 2 people

    • johnrobertson834 September 5, 2018 / 6:19 pm

      How conscious a decision did the reporter make in choosing that word?


      • John September 5, 2018 / 7:29 pm

        Pretty calculated I would say .

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Ludo Thierry September 5, 2018 / 4:12 pm

    Meanwhile the Westminster controlled HMRC don’t have the manpower to cope with the surge in applications for Child Tax Credits associated with the English schools’ return – but won’t recognise the Scottish school terms – which would at least stagger the surge in applications. From the National:

    THE SNP’s Gordon Macdonald has written to the UK government calling for reassessments of Child Tax Credits in Scotland to correspond with Scottish school term times, following reports of delayed payments.

    The Edinburgh Pentlands MSP has been contacted by families who are struggling to manage, after they did not receive the Child Tax Credits payments they were due. HMRC confirmed they are recalculating all Child Tax Credits in line with the return of schools in England, with payments delayed due to system overloads.

    Brings to mind one of Keir Hardie’s more restrained descriptions of Westminster “..putrid mass of corruption, a quagmire of sordid madness, a conglomeration of mercenary spiritless hacks dead alike to honour and self-respect”. One wonders why old KH didn’t just let them have it from both barrels.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. annraynet September 5, 2018 / 5:45 pm

    It’s carrying on with Reporting Scotland this evening. Sad nurse pictured saying how they are all struggling and under stress through exhaustion because of nurse vacancies. No contact at all given.
    However did admit lifeguards in traing but to ‘balance’ thst, sauntered are also vacancies for physio and occupational therapists.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. annraynet September 5, 2018 / 5:47 pm

    Sorry, predictive text produces garbage while you post! Meant to say no context then nurses in training.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. David Braidwood September 5, 2018 / 7:09 pm

    The professional body for Nurses is the NCM. Nursing and Midwifery Council. As you rightly say the RCN is a Union which most nurses don’t join.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Alasdair Macdonald September 6, 2018 / 4:51 pm

    Mr Robertson, You are going to have to keep plugging this rapid rebuttal every time they quote the doctors union, the teachers union, etc as ‘bodies’ or other euphemisms.

    There is a class element in the way these ‘bodies’ are presented as sincere ‘professionals’ whereas a ‘body like the Confederation of Health Service Employees was usually quoted in a critical way because of the general hostility to the trade unions which do not represent ‘professionals’.

    The other common presentational device is that private schools are always prefaced by ‘TOP’ or ‘LEADING’, whereas if there is a report on, for example, Lenzie Academy or Gryffe High School they might, just might, identify them as ‘top performing STATE school’, with the emphasis on ‘STATE’, but somewhere, they would slip in an unfavourable comparison with the number of Highers attained by students of say, The Edinburgh Academy, because Lenzie and Gryffe, for example, while they serve predominantly affluent areas, have wider catchment areas and non-selected intakes.


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