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Consultant vacancy rate in Scotland 'double the official figure'

BMA fears workforce statistics don’t capture the full scale of empty posts

Mark Gould

Tuesday, 02 December 2014

Figures compiled by the BMA reveal that the hospital consultant vacancy rate in Scotland is 11.3%, which is almost double the official figure.

Doctors’ leaders have today called on the Scottish Government to work with the BMA to improve the information collected on consultant vacancies across the Scottish health service to inform and support work to address the ongoing recruitment and retention problems in hospitals. 

The call comes after the BMA made Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to health boards, using what it feels is a more meaningful definition for vacancies, to try to build a more complete picture of the shortfall in the consultant workforce.

It received responses from all 14 health boards, although responses from NHS Grampian and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde were incomplete, and has shared its findings with the Scottish Government.

The BMA says that the official definition of a vacancy does not include the significant number of posts where someone has left but the advert for their replacement hasn’t been authorised, or vacant posts which an employer has tried and failed to fill and is not currently re-advertising.

Neither does it reliably capture use of locums to maintain services. An over-reliance on locum posts is costly and is not a sustainable long-term solution for the Scottish health service.

Dr Nikki Thompson, chair of the BMA’s Scottish consultants committee, said: “Although the number of consultant posts in Scotland has been slowly increasing, it is not keeping pace with patient need. The problem is further compounded in some key specialties by large numbers of unattractive vacancies, putting unsustainable pressure on those consultants who are in post.

”Consultant colleagues are already working under significant pressure and are increasingly having to cover gaps where vacancies cannot be filled. The reality on the ground does not tally with the official vacancy figures, and the information provided by health boards backs that up.

“We are not suggesting that the official figures are inaccurate, but they don’t show the whole picture. We’re calling on the Scottish Government to work with us to collect meaningful information so that they can take swift and appropriate action to ensure that we are able to recruit and retain the consultants required for the Scottish health service to continue providing quality patient care.”

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