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Consultant vacancies - a serious issue in Scotland

Many posts unfilled for more than six months

Jo Carlowe

Wednesday, 04 December 2019

Scotland’s NHS consultant vacancies continue to remain a serious issue, new figures show.

The latest figures* published this week, reveal that a high number of posts have been left unfilled for more than six months.

The statistics from ISD Scotland show the official vacancy rate at 8.2% – some 475 vacancies, which is an increase of 20.9% over the year.

The number of long-term vacant posts not filled after six months stands at 250, demonstrating that many jobs remain extremely challenging to recruit to.

Combined with the likely increase in demand as a result of winter pressures, and the ongoing issues surrounding large pensions tax bills hitting senior doctors across Scotland – forcing many to cut down their hours and give up extra work – the British Medical Association (BMA) warns that urgent action is required to retain and recruit doctors to the most senior posts.

BMA Scotland says the official figures are likely to understate the true position – BMA Scotland collated FOI data last year that indicated real-world vacancies are much higher than the level recorded by official statistics – a difference of around 375 WTE (whole-time equivalent) vacancies. This would be enough doctors to potentially staff a large hospital that are missing from the Scottish workforce.

Commenting, Alan Robertson, deputy chair of the BMA’s Scottish Consultants Committee said: “The substantial long-term gaps in Scotland’s workforce are a growing and serious concern – stretching the workforce to the limit and affecting the ability of doctors to deliver the high-quality patient care they strive for. The government needs to take urgent and long-lasting action to address this deeply worrying lack of doctors.

“The significant impact this already has on NHS capacity is now exacerbated by the large pensions tax bills that are forcing many doctors to cut the hours they work. The Scottish government has introduced a time limited scheme for recycling employer pension contributions, however this is very much a short-term fix and we desperately need permanent UK-wide taxation reform before we enter the new financial year.”

He added: “On top of this, these statistics are still hiding the real scale of vacancies among the consultant workforce. Previous analysis shows that a whole, large hospital could be staffed from vacancies left out of the figures, which demonstrates how far from reality today’s figures are likely to be. We need to be realistic about how many vacancies there are, and the BMA stands ready to help that process.

“As we approach the real period of winter pressure for the NHS in Scotland, it is vital this chronic shortage of doctors is finally addressed. We need the Scottish government to finally publish its much-delayed workforce plan. In that we need to see serious steps in Scotland to make working as a doctor an appealing career choice and show doctors they are valued. That means focused efforts on recruitment and retention, improved work-life balance and concrete steps to improve the culture in the NHS; tackling bullying and reducing the narrow focus on targets and the high pressure, blame-focused environment they create. I appeal to Scottish Ministers to take this matter seriously and to address it urgently before it’s too late.”

*Core Workforce. Figures prepared by ISD Scotland, 3 December 2019.

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