Recruitment and retention


Information Services Division publishes a quarterly statistics bulletin which provides demographic information to Health Board level on the workforce in the NHS in Scotland and vacancy information for nursing and midwifery, allied health professions and consultants1. At the end of March 2016 161,656 people were employed by NHSScotland.

In relation to consultants posts there were 355.4 whole-time equivalent (WTE) vacancies. This is a vacancy rate of 6.5%. Of these vacancies, 166.1 WTE were vacant for more than six months, an increase of 17.4 WTE compared to March 2015. 3.7% of allied health profession posts were vacant. The highest numbers of vacancies were recorded in Physiotherapy (5.3%), Occupational therapy (4.7%) and Diagnostic radiography (3.8%). There were 2,207.3 WTE vacant nursing and midwifery posts (a vacancy rate of 3.6%).

There are also pressures on the number of GPs. In 2015 the RCGP warned that Scotland could face a shortfall of more than 900 GPs by 2020.

Workforce planning was the subject of a Health Committee Inquiry in 2005.

Remote and rural

Recruitment and retention issues are the key challenges facing rural general practice and primary care. NHS Education for Scotland Supporting Remote and Rural Healthcare noted that there is a need to improve access to ongoing education, rural placements, peer-support and peer-referencing activities to support recruitment to, and retention in rural practice, and to decrease professional isolation for practitioners, and to ensure that all of this is underpinned with appropriate use of new technology.

In February 2015 the Public Audit Committee met with officials from NHS Highland and NHS Education Scotland (NES) in Inverness to discuss recruitment and retention in remote and rural areas. The Committee also considered these issues with GPs and current medical students in roundtable discussions.

In June 2016 the Scottish Government announced that a number of projects would be funded by them over the next two years. £2million will be made available from their £85million Primary Care Fund. These initiatives include a Scottish Rural Medicine Collaborative in seven health boards to bring together recruitment strategies and support networks for GPs working in remote and rural areas.


The Committee wrote to the Scottish Government and NHS Education for Scotland seeking information on current policies and initiatives to improve the retention and recruitment of staff focussing in particular on staff in rural and remote areas.

On 23 August the Committee received a response from the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport.

On 31 August the Committee received a response from NHS Education for Scotland

Call for Views

The Committee issued a targeted call for written views over the summer, the responses can be found here:

Written submissions

General roundtable session and further roundtable session focussing on rural recruitment and retention.

1 Data to region and board level can be accessed using the link at the foot of chart in the ISD bulletin.

On 9 December 2016 the Convener wrote to the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport outlining our findings during the recruitment and retention inquiry:

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