BMA Scotland highlight concern over the real scale of consultant vacancies
Consultant vacancies in Scotland’s NHS are likely to be substantially higher than official figures show, BMA Scotland analysis published today demonstrates.
The latest NHS workforce figures issued today showed vacancy rates for consultants at an already high 6.8 per cent. However, data obtained under FOI by BMA Scotland suggests the actual vacancy rate is likely to be 13.9 per cent, around double the level shown by official statistics. The difference is the equivalent of around 375 WTE vacancies which are not being recorded by official data – enough doctors to potentially staff a large hospital.
The difference is accounted for by vacancies not filled through the recruitment process that can be removed temporarily from the overall establishment figure, and posts not yet cleared for advert, which are also excluded.
Added to this, the official ISD figures do not fully reflect the heavy reliance on locum doctors that boards are using to cover vacant consultant posts. Filling posts with locums is a temporary solution and does not provide long term sustainability. It is therefore vital that these posts are included in vacancy data to enable proper workforce planning.
Another concern in this context is the rising number of posts in the official figures which are vacant for 6 months or more, which is up by 1.7 per cent on the same time last year – again demonstrating posts are hard to fill.
Four years ago, the BMA conducted similar research, which also reflected concern that vacancy rates are being underestimated and offered to work with the Scottish Government to allow a more complete picture of consultant vacancies to be compiled. The BMA today reiterated that offer.
Dr Simon Barker, Chair of BMA Scotland’s Consultant Committee said:
“Our members often tell us that the published consultant vacancy figures don’t reflect the reality of the huge challenges of working on the frontline of Scotland’s NHS. The new data from our FOI suggests they are absolutely right to feel that way.
“This analysis shows that by not including certain categories of vacancy, the official statistics simply don’t provide the full picture of the scale of consultant vacancies in our NHS.
“For example, vacant posts that go unfilled are then removed from official figures. Our FOI data suggests that when these are added back in, and few would argue that these aren’t real vacancies, the actual vacancy rate is substantially higher than boards report. Collectively, that means there are potentially around 375 vacancies on top of those counted by official figures - the equivalent of a large hospital empty of its senior doctors.
“We welcome efforts made to increase the consultant workforce in recent years, and of course this is a complex and difficult issue. But we simply won’t make any progress in making sure we have a properly staffed NHS if we continue to work off incomplete figures or rely complacently on increases in the overall headcount. That simply isn’t good enough – for patients or doctors.
“That’s because, behind these figures are senior doctors who are pushed into covering the work of these vacant posts. These are professionals doing their absolute best, but under these conditions we risk burnout and stretching people beyond their limits. Inevitably this leads to more people leaving the profession early and the high standard of care for patients that we all strive for, not being achieved.
“We need urgent action to encourage people to enter the medical profession and equally importantly, retain those who have dedicated their professional lives to this demanding career. That means a fair and attractive reward package that reverses a decade of real terms decline in pay; and working conditions that support work life balance and ensure workloads are manageable. A key first step to that must be having a full and accurate picture of the data available. Just as we stated four years ago, we remain happy to work with the Scottish Government to deliver exactly that.”