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Vantage point: Why I’m taking a fresh look at roles and routes into nursing

Impending safe staffing law calls for imaginative ways to bolster our workforce

Impending safe staffing law calls for imaginative ways to bolster our workforce


With an ageing staff demographic, the need to recruit younger people is clear. Picture: iStock

There are around 11,000 nurses and midwives in NHS Lothian. New safe-staffing legislation coming into effect in Scotland in 2019 means a lot of my current focus is on how I will keep patients and staff safe. Ensuring I can recruit and retain compassionate and competent staff is essential to this but I have realised that simply doing ‘more of the same’ isn’t going to work.

This year I will be driving forward a return-to-practice programme, working with the Open University, exploring all of the avenues the apprenticeship routes offer at undergraduate and postgraduate level, developing a new band 4 associate practitioner role in the community while also looking into advanced practice.  

Let’s not underestimate the value of support roles

We need to have more discussion on the thorny question of skill mix. This isn’t about ‘dumbing down’ of skills, but about complementing them and adding value. Such added value in clinical teams may come from paying more attention to innovative supporting roles such as those of activities coordinators and recreational therapists as well as experienced administrative support.

Retention from band 2 to band 7 and beyond is vital. Some of the best and strongest examples I have seen have involved staff who have come into the service at band 2 and progressed though the access programmes and into registered posts and then to leadership roles. These are all options we need to explore and support.

As I face an increasingly older demographic profile in my workforce I am looking to the future potential recruits, particularly those at school and those about to leave school. This is a challenge. We know that school-age children receive lots of information about careers in the armed forces, banking, the hospitality business and in fact medicine, but nursing seems to be a forgotten profession. It’s time to change this.

I relish the chance to attract more young people, but also older people who have had a career in healthcare and now want to come back, back into the health service and into a nursing role. In short, I want to ensure I can provide the best and safest care possible.


About the author

Alex McMahon is executive director, nursing, midwifery and allied health professionals; executive lead Royal Edinburgh and Associated Services and prison healthcare, NHS Lothian. He is a member of the Nursing Management editorial advisory panel

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