Fears over demands on children’s health services

Concerns about services have arisen due to staff shortages, with high vacancy rates for paediatric posts in Scotland. Picture: TSPL

Concerns about services have arisen due to staff shortages, with high vacancy rates for paediatric posts in Scotland. Picture: TSPL

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HEALTH chiefs across Scotland fear children’s services will not be able to cope with the demands they face in the coming months, a report reveals.

A survey by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) found that 77 per cent of clinical directors for child hospital services said they were concerned about how their units would deal with the demands placed on them.

The research also revealed that almost a quarter of posts for middle grade paediatric doctors remained unfilled in Scotland at the end of last year.

It comes after previous concerns were raised about paediatric services in Scotland, including temporary closures at St John’s Hospital in Livingston due to staff shortages.

The RCPCH sent questionnaires to clinical directors responsible for units providing general paediatric and neonatal services across the UK.

The directors were asked how concerned they were that their service would not be able to cope with the demands placed on it during the next six months.

In Scotland, 30.8 per cent said they were “very” concerned that their services would not be able to cope, compared to 25 per cent of directors in Wales and 17.8 per cent in England.

In addition, 46.2 per cent of clinical directors in Scotland said they were “moderately” concerned about the issue while only 23.1 per cent were unconcerned.

Concerns about services have arisen due to staff shortages, with high vacancy rates for paediatric posts in Scotland.

The vacancy rate for middle grade paediatricians in Scotland - doctors working above junior level but below consultant grade - stood at almost 23 per cent at the end of last year. This compared to 12.6 per cent in Wales and 14.9 per cent in England.

Less than half (47.5 per cent) of these posts were filled by locum staff, meaning other shifts would need to be covered by other temporary staff or consultants.

Dr Andrew Eccleston, RCPCH workforce officer for Scotland said the figures revealed an on-going serious shortage of middle grade paediatricians within Scotland.

“The vacancy rate within Scotland on general and neonatal middle grade rotas continues to place significant strain on paediatric services,” he said.

“The survey demonstrates considerable concern among senior clinicians that staffing shortages may result in services being unable to cope with demand in the next 6 months.”

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said the report should “set alarm bells ringing” in the Scottish Government.

“It’s not the first warning we’ve had about staffing levels both in the present and in future,” he said.

“This is about forward planning, and it should not be beyond the wit of the Scottish Government to see these problems coming down the track and set training levels appropriately.”

Scottish Labour’s Neil Findlay said: “The increasing pressure on paediatric staffing shows yet again that the Scottish Government has failed to plan for enough doctors and nurses for Scotland’s NHS.

“To make matters worse, the SNP is sitting back saying that it has nothing to do with them – even though they have been running the NHS since 2007.”

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