Consultant workforce ‘beyond crisis point’

by BMA Scotland

BMA Scotland's senior doctors 'beyond crisis point'

Location: Scotland
Published: Tuesday 5 March 2024
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Reacting to today’s consultant vacancy statistics, and that a new offer will be put to consultants in England, Dr Alan Robertson, Chair of BMA Scotland’s Consultant Committee said:

“For some time now, we have been beyond crisis point for Scotland’s senior doctor workforce. Today we can see that stark reality and there is no doubt we are reaching a crunch point where something will have to give.

“New statistics show that consultant vacancies remain far too high, standing at some 436 gaps in the workforce – and up by 5.8% on this time last year. Worryingly, posts sitting vacant for 6 months or more are up to 238 – a 12.2% increase over the past 12 months – showing just how hard it is to recruit senior doctors.

“Audit Scotland has warned our NHS and its workforce is simply unable to meet the growing demand for health services of our population. The stubbornly high level of gaps in our consultant workforce just back up that claim further – and it is patients who are suffering as waiting lists grow and care becomes harder and harder to access.

“In reality, the situation is likely even worse, as these official figures seriously underestimate the real level of vacancies by not counting things like posts temporarily filled by locums, or vacant for so long that they are no longer being advertised. Our previous figures have consistently shown that the actual number of vacancies are around double those counted in official figures and we are currently collecting this data again.

“Today, a new offer for English Consultants has also been announced. It will of course be up to them to consider whether to accept – but when you add in the new top rates of tax introduced in Scotland, the competitive disadvantage our consultants face is becoming increasingly clear. We cannot possibly hope to make any difference on reducing the number of gaps in our workforce if it continues to become substantially less attractive to work in Scotland than other places in the UK.

“While we will need to analyse the English offer in relation to Scotland, in particular any impact on Barnett consequentials, we urge the Scottish Government to commit to at least matching what is on offer in England and ensuring no consultant in Scotland is missing out. Indeed, there is an opportunity to go further if we really want to deliver the consultant workforce our NHS in Scotland needs.

“Sadly, given the way that Ministers have recently ignored our pleas for positive engagement I fear that this may be unlikely unless there is an urgent change in direction. It sadly and frustratingly seems increasingly clear that the only way we will get the attention, action and improvements necessary for the hugely valuable resource that is our consultant workforce, is to pursue a course of threatening to enter dispute and then undertake the kind of industrial action seen elsewhere in the UK. I very much hope that we hear from the new Cabinet Secretary soon and he proves my fears unfounded.”