The BMA has warned that official figures are masking the true extent of gaps in the consultant workforce in Scotland by failing to record all vacancies.
The latest figures from Information Services Division Scotland show an official vacancy rate of 7.2 per cent, more than half of which had been unfilled for six months or more, showing the number of vacancies are increasing.
However, research published last year by the BMA, based on data obtained through Freedom of Information legislation, suggests that actual vacancy figures are running substantially higher than those recorded in the official statistics. This is because some vacancies not filled through a recruitment process can be removed on a temporary basis from the figures, and posts not yet approved for advert are also excluded.
BMA Scottish consultants committee chair Simon Barker said the high vacancy rate was affecting the care that doctors who were in post were able to give, and called for urgent action.
‘It is vital the Scottish Government, and NHS Employers take a long hard look at what is driving this shortage of consultants.
‘There is no doubt a range of complex issues in play, including poor work life balance, lack of protected training opportunities, substantial reductions in real terms pay and pension rules that mean unexpected and large tax bills. Taken together, these are major barriers to improved recruitment and retention. It will no doubt be different for every doctor, but essentially we are not doing enough to make the job attractive and rewarding. We need urgent action to put the consultant workforce on a sustainable footing and ensure all doctors feel valued for dedicating their lives to caring for people across Scotland.’
Health secretary Jeane Freeman said that overall NHS staffing levels were up by more than 13,600 whole-time equivalent posts under the current Government.
‘We’re developing a comprehensive integrated health and social care workforce plan to help ensure that we have the right staff in the right place long into the future,’ she added.
‘This will be informed by our safe staffing legislation that we are currently taking through the Scottish Parliament – the first multidisciplinary workforce and workload planning legislation in the UK.’
However, Dr Barker said the issue of ‘hidden’ vacancies meant that the full picture wasn’t properly recognised.
‘Vacant posts are still being left out of these figures for various reasons. This just isn’t acceptable. Everyone agrees there is a problem, but you can’t expect to find solution if you don’t have the complete picture in the first place. It is incredibly frustrating as a doctor to see ongoing reliance on statistics which are clearly deficient and don’t fully reflect the substantial challenge of working in Scotland’s NHS, and doing the very best you can to deliver care, yet being hamstrung by a lack of resources and staff.
‘Recently a great deal of time has been spent discussing how to improve waiting times. Clearly it is impossible to believe that sustainable solutions to deliver quicker care can be achieved while this situation persists. You can spend anything you want on new equipment, but it will provide zero benefit without the skilled staff there to use it.’