BMA Scotland: Consultant vacancies “more than double” official figures

by BMA Scotland media team

Press release from BMA Scotland

Location: Scotland
Published: Tuesday 20 December 2022
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The true number of vacant consultant posts in Scotland is more than double the Scottish Government’s official figures, BMA Scotland said today.

An FOI request to Scotland’s 14 health boards revealed there are 937 whole time equivalent consultant vacancies – 14.32% of the senior doctor workforce, and enough doctors to staff an entire large hospital.

Dr Alan Robertson, chair of the BMA’s Scottish Consultants Committee, said these figures come as no real surprise but expressed his frustration that no improvements have been made over the past 12 months, with the Scottish Government recently claiming the consultant vacancy rate was 6.2% - based on figures that exclude certain types of vacancy.

He said: “Consultant vacancies across Scotland remain worryingly high – these latest figures are not surprising, but I find myself increasingly frustrated that the Scottish government is not revealing the true extent of them in the official stats. 

“We are in the midst of a consultant recruitment and retention crisis – this year we have seen increased agency spending on locum doctors, suggesting that finding permanent staff to fill the gaps is proving to be significantly challenging and is cause for huge concern.

“And yet, we keep hearing that NHS staffing levels are at a record high. But to repeat this over and over to staff on the ground who are depleted, exhausted and facing burnout is not just demoralising, but incredibly insulting. Staff are working flat out, doing absolutely everything they can to cope with rising demand which is spiralling out of control, but I cannot be any clearer when I say that just because there are more people on the payroll than before, does not mean there is enough. The consultant workforce has been stretched to its limit over the past few years and staff shortages are affecting the ability of doctors to deliver the high-quality patient care they strive for. I’ll say it again: we don’t have enough doctors in Scotland to effectively staff our NHS and deliver all that is being asked of us.

“Not only that, but it is also affecting the high-quality training of junior doctors we want to deliver. The workforce is running on empty: there were reports of widespread burnout and an array of workforce and workplace pressures long before the pandemic hit. There is simply nothing left to give.

“The impact of these on-going vacancies on staff left working in the service is profound and there should be serious concerns over their wellbeing as we enter what is always a notoriously difficult period – indeed we seem to be in a perpetual winter right now and things are not going to get any better any time soon.

“We need serious steps to be taken in Scotland to make working as a doctor an appealing career choice, and both government and employers need to show that staff are valued. That means a real focused drive on not only recruitment of new staff but also, crucially, retention of the current workforce – through improved work-life balance, and a concentrated effort on improving the mental and physical wellbeing of staff. The government must address this chronic shortage of doctors and make tangible investment in core NHS staff, instead of spending millions of pounds on temporary solutions such as locums to plug gaps in the system.

“We have to focus on all aspects of reward – ensuring doctors, who have suffered years of real-time pay cuts, are paid fairly with acceptable pay awards that are above inflation and addressing once and for all the pension taxation issues at both Scottish and Westminster levels.”

Notes to editors

BMA Scotland’s FOI data for vacancies took into consideration posts that are temporarily filled by locums, posts that have not yet been advertised, and posts that have remained vacant for so long they are no longer being advertised. The official figures released by NES for the Scottish Government do not account for any of these vacancies.

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