Consultant vacancies at ‘highest rate since 2007’

Experts warn shortage of doctors affecting waiting times

Tuesday 3rd September 2019

The British Medical Association (BMA) has accused the Scottish Government of “complacency” as figures released today show vacancy rates for NHS consultants are at their highest level in more than a decade.

Just under 9% of medical and dental consultant posts went unfilled in the second quarter of 2019, the highest rate since 2007.

The figures also revealed the health service is short of more than 4,000 nurses.

More than half of the 500 vacancies had been empty for more than six months.

Despite the rising vacancy rate, the number of staff in the NHS actually rose slightly, to over 160,000.

Experts from the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh believe the shortfall is affecting waiting times.

A spokesperson for the group said: “The Scottish NHS continues to experience high demand, so it’s important that now, more than ever, we have effective workforce plans and policies in place to cope.

“It is important that health boards continue to highlight consultant vacancies, and work with The Scottish Government and the medical Royal Colleges to come up with effective solutions about how to fill them.

“The fewer consultant vacancies there are, the better the chance health boards will have of meeting treatment time targets while delivering quality care outcomes for patients.”

Meanwhile, Simon Barker, who represents Scottish consultants for the BMA, said: “The substantial long-term gaps in Scotland’s workforce are a growing and serious concern – not just for the NHS, but equally for everyone who relies on it for the care they need. Government complacency year after year has failed to address this deeply worrying lack of doctors.

Mr Barker warned an ongoing pensions row is hitting doctors with tax bills “running into tens of thousands of pounds”.

And he cautioned today’s figures could be “far from reality” because they do not include posts filled with locums or posts yet to be advertised.

The BMA Scotland spokesman continued: “Our workforce is stretched to its very limit. The truth is simple: we just do not have enough doctors. Yet – incredibly – those doctors in post, who are going above and beyond what is expected of them to cover gaps in the workforce, are being punished financially for trying to help keep the NHS working. Action must be taken. We need 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 reversing years of real-term pay cuts. The Scottish Government has instead chosen to rely on temporary and more expensive locum staff to plug gaps and shore up services. This is not a sustainable model for our NHS and it does not serve the people of Scotland well.”

Health secretary Jeane Freeman said NHS staffing was at "historically high" levels.

Ms Freeman said: “We recently passed our new safe staffing legislation to help plan and recruit our workforce to meet the changing health and care needs of the people of Scotland long into the future. We’ve supported this by increasing training places for medical students and for nursing students.

"In contrast to the actions of the UK Government for the health service in England, we’ve protected free nursing and free midwifery tuition and not only kept their bursary, but we are increasing it to £10,000 from next year."

“We’re doing all we can to try and mitigate the appalling impact that a no deal Brexit poses to recruitment to our health and care services, and as a consequence the impact on people who rely on those services. Only yesterday the BMA described a no deal Brexit as having ‘catastrophic consequences’, it’s far past time that the UK Government categorically ruled it out – not least for the sake of our NHS and patients.”