BMA Scotland: Zero progress made as consultant vacancies remain as “worryingly” high as they were this time last year.

by BMA Scotland media team

Press release from BMA Scotland

Location: Scotland
Published: Monday 28 February 2022
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It is highly concerning that there has been no improvement to the NHS staffing crisis among senior doctors in Scotland at all over the past 12 months, BMA Scotland Consultant Chair Graeme Eunson said today.

FOI data collected by BMA Scotland shows that consultant vacancy rate may be as high as 15.2% when vacancies excluded from official figures are included – around double the officially recorded rate. This has not changed at all since last year, indicating no progress has been made to recruit more desperately needed senior doctors.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Eunson said: “Whilst I am relieved to see that the vacancy rate has not increased from last year, it remains, to put it mildly, a massive disappointment, that nothing has improved despite 12 months of promises to recruit senior staff. The impact of these on-going vacancies on staff left working in the service is profound: burnout, exhaustion, poor work-life balance and serious concerns over wellbeing.

“The consultant workforce has played a major role in the Covid response, but it has been stretched to its limit over the past two years and staff shortages are affecting the ability of doctors to deliver the high-quality patient care they strive for.

“We simply cannot carry on like this. Without clear action – and a solid workforce plan from the Scottish Government that genuinely addresses these staff shortages – things will get worse over the next 12 months. One place that could start is by properly counting vacancies, as our FOI again reveals that they are substantially underestimated in official figures: an issue that was also raised by the recent Audit Scotland report on the NHS which said the NHS’s ability to plan for recovery remains hindered by a lack of robust and reliable data across several areas.

“Doctors are running on empty. They had been reporting widespread burnout and an array of workforce and workplace pressures long before the pandemic hit. This, in conjunction with poor pay rises and a punitive pension tax regime, has led to many consultants considering their future. When older sections of the NHS Pension Scheme close in April – with everyone moving to the same scheme – I believe that will be a catalyst for many doctors to consider retirement, potentially leaving us in an even worse position in a year’s time. I am sure that many doctors, out of a sense of duty to help Scotland through the pandemic, stayed on in their roles over the last couple of years. With things now looking more optimistic in that regard, it may well be pensions tax that pushes many over the edge – so we must have urgent action on this at both a Scottish and Westminster level.

“On top of that, there are two things I implore the Scottish Government to do. We desperately need tangible investment in our core NHS staff: without that it will be impossible to get the NHS back to where we want – and need – it to be. It is vital that this chronic shortage of doctors is finally addressed by a decisive plan to retain senior doctors, which considers how we support them throughout their career; and we need to see serious steps taken in Scotland to make working as a doctor an appealing career choice and show them they are valued. That means a real focused drive on recruitment, improved work-life balance, and a concentrated effort on improving the mental and physical wellbeing of staff. If we are saying this again next year, NHS staff have been failed.”

Notes to editors

The McCloud remedy removes the age discrimination that was judged to have arisen in public service pension schemes, including the NHS Pension Scheme. This discrimination resulted from allowing older members to remain in their legacy (1995 or 2008) scheme rather than being moved to the 2015 Scheme when it was introduced. Part of the remedy is that, to ensure equal treatment, all active members of the NHS Pension Scheme will be in the 2015 Scheme from 1 April 2022, and the 1995 and 2008 Sections of the NHS Pension Scheme will close. We believe that this will be a catalyst for many doctors to consider retirement at this point.

The FOI was sent to all NHS boards asking for this data as of 30 September 2021. All boards responded.

Vacancies excluded from the official figures include: newly created vacant posts which have not yet been advertised, vacant posts which are awaiting approval, vacant posts that unfilled but are no longer being advertised, vacant posts that are currently being filled by a locum, and vacant posts that are being filled temporarily.

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