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Vacancy surveys

Overview

NES collects survey data on vacancies each quarter for a range of staff groups. Data are provided by NHS Boards for the number of vacant posts at a census (31 March, 30 June, 30 September, 31 December).

A vacancy is defined as "a post which has been cleared for advert after being through the redeployment process (internal or external advert) and remains a vacancy until an individual starts in the post".

Vacancy data are collected for the following five staff groups:

  • Medical and dental consultants
  • Nursing and midwifery
  • Allied health professions
  • Child and adolescent mental health
  • Psychology service

There is a survey specific to staff group, and the survey items may vary slightly depending on the target staff group.

A single survey is used to collect data on both employment and vacancies for the NHS Pharmacy managed sector. See our page on the NHSScotland pharmacy workforce survey for further details.

What data are published?

After receiving the completed surveys, NES will process, apply quality assurance checks and report these data in the official statistics publications. Medical and dental consultants, nursing and midwifery and allied health professions are reported quarterly in the NHSScotland Workforce official statistics publication. The child and adolescent mental health survey and Psychology services survey are reported quarterly in their respective publications.

The key information released in each publication is:

  • Number of posts vacant at the census by NHS Board and length of vacancy.
  • Vacancy rate at the census date by NHS Board.

Further breakdowns are available depending on the data collected, for example vacancies by specialty for medical and dental consultants.

Background

Medical and dental consultants

Vacancy data are collected from each NHS Board for the number of vacant medical and dental consultant posts by the medical specialty and vacancy length (less than 6 months and 6 months or more). The list of medical specialties used to collect vacancy data are identical to those published for staff in post

Data are collected by whole time equivalent and headcount.

Nursing and midwifery

Vacancy data are collected from each NHS Board for the number of vacant nursing and midwifery posts by the sub job family, agenda for change band, location of service delivery and vacancy length (less than 3 months, 3 - 6 months, and 6 months or more). 

Data in the survey are collected for a reduced number of sub job families compared with the sub job families reported in the staff in post data. The following staff in post sub job families are collected and reported under a grouping of "other" in the vacancy survey: bank, blood transfusion service, community children's nursing, sexual and reproductive health nursing, neonatal, NHS 24, specialist nursing, practice nursing, staff nursery, training and administration, and treatment room nursing. A full mapping is available.

Data are provided by whole time equivalent.

Allied health professionals

Vacancy data are collected from each NHS Board for the number of vacant posts for staff working in the allied health profession (AHP) staff group by the following variables: sub job family, agenda for change band group (e.g. support or qualified) and vacancy length (less than 3 months, 3 months or more and unknown).

The list of AHP sub job families used to collect vacancy data are identical to those published for staff in post. However, vacant posts for multi-skilled and arts therapy are only collected for support staff (AfC Band 1-4). Similarly, vacant posts for paramedics are only collected for qualified staff (AfC Band 5-9).

Data are provided by whole time equivalent.

Child and adolescent mental health

Vacancy data are collected from service for the number of vacant posts by the following: professional group, post title, agenda for change band, area of work, date the post was first advertised, contract term (e.g. fixed term or Permanent).

Data are provided by whole time equivalent. The length of vacancy is calculated using the date the post was first advertised and reported by groups 0-3 months, 3-6 months, over 6 months and unknown.

Psychology services

Vacancy data are collected from service for the number of vacant posts by the following: professional group, post title, agenda for change band, area of work, target age, date the post was first advertised, contract term (e.g. fixed term or Permanent).

Data are provided by whole time equivalent. The length of vacancy is calculated using the date the post was first advertised and reported by groups 0-3 months, 3-6 months, over 6 months and unknown.

Further information

Vacancy rate is calculated by dividing the number of vacancies by the sum of the staff in post and vacancies (the Establishment).

Quality assurance and limitations

Quality assurance

A number of steps are in place to ensure that these data are reported accurately.

  1. Excel survey templates are provided to NHS Boards two weeks before the census date to complete for the relevant staff group, along with standard guidance for completing each survey. Surveys are completed by staff employed directly within the relevant service and/or by staff in Workforce/HR directorates. For the Pharmacy staff group, the data are signed off by the Director of Pharmacy each Board.

  2. There is some variation between and within Boards in how the surveys are completed. Some of the variation is accounted for in terms of the target staff groups, and some in terms of the Boards' own views on their most reliable source data. For example, CAMHS and Psychology surveys are completed by staff working directly in the service. For the surveys on consultants, nursing and midwifery and allied health professions, some Boards use reports from the national recruitment system (Job Train) to compile their returns, others will source data from staff working directly in the relevant services.

  3. Once these data have been returned to NES, each survey is checked for any completion errors or missing information, and compared with previous figures for evidence of unusual trends/outliers and anything that may require further explanation for publication users. When required, NES will clarify any potential issues directly with the data providers.

  4. These data are then used to refresh our PowerBI publication report. The report is then checked to ensure the values are shown accurately and any additional points of clarity are noted in notes pages or interactive tooltips.

The above quality assurance processes result in trustworthy information being released as part of the NHSScotland Workforce publication and reduce the likelihood of any issues arising after publication. In the event that we are made of any major data inaccuracies we will update any outputs in line with our revision protocol. 

Limitations

These surveys collect aggregate data which means that it is not possible to track the progression of vacant posts over time, nor link posts to vacancies.

There are some gaps in the data collected. The surveys do not cover all NHS staff groups and grades / bands.

For the staff groups that are in scope, the survey items do not include all possible breakdowns. For example, only a subset of nursing and midwifery sub job families are captured.

CAMHS and Psychology vacancy surveys occasionally have incomplete submissions, so the number of vacant posts may be under-reported. In these instances any large data quality concerns are noted.

ISD (now PHS) refined the vacancy definition in 2014 in collaboration with NHS Boards and the Scottish Government. Users of the data should be aware of the following:

  • Adding the staff in post and total vacancies together will likely over-count the establishment. For example, if a member of staff is working their notice period, but their post is being advertised, then the post would be counted twice (one staff in post plus one vacancy).

  • Posts are counted as vacant until someone starts. This means that some vacant posts reported may have already been filled (but the person hasn't started yet).
The Job Train national recruitment system
Significant time and effort is required from personnel in NHS Boards to complete these surveys. All Boards now use the JobTrain recruitment system to manage local recruitment. NES are currently investigating the use of this system to provide all vacancy data, which could have the triple benefit of 1) reducing/removing the burden of complying with surveys, 2) supplying data on all NHS staff groups, and 3) reducing the variation in how these data are collected.