Lizzy Buchan: Support needed in NHS staff crisis

Staffing issues are affecting practices and hospitals across Scotland. Picture: Tony Marsh
Staffing issues are affecting practices and hospitals across Scotland. Picture: Tony Marsh
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Support is needed for junior doctors to tackle Scotland’s staffing crisis, writes Lizzy Buchan

STAFFING shortages across NHS Scotland are proving to be the problem that just will not go away.

GP practices across Scotland have closed their lists to patients, while St John’s Hospital, Livingston, temporarily downgraded its paediatric ward and the intensive care unit at Kirkcaldy’s Victoria Hospital faced a threat of closure earlier this month.While workforce issues are not limited to the NHS north of the Border, the latest developments will undoubtedly present a sobering picture for ministers.

Funding for medical students has been cut by 5 per cent on average since 2008-9, according to research by Scottish Labour health spokesperson Dr Richard Simpson, who described the situation as “a complete shambles”.

The impending GP crisis has been well documented, as the Royal College of GPs predicted a shortfall of 900 family doctors by 2020 if the situation does not improve radically.

It has also been reported that one in five training slots for GPs in Scotland has been left empty this summer, reducing the numbers going into the profession.

Medical leaders are stuggling to understand why young doctors are turning their backs on general practice, but it is clear that slashing funding for medical students can only exacerbate the problem.

As fewer students go through the system, then staffing shortages at higher levels may well become more acute.

NHS Highland was forced to suspend training for junior doctors at Caithness General Hospital, Wick, last week following the resignation of a long-term locum consultant.

The young doctors will now be sent elsewhere for training, removing a valuable resource from the hospital.

This situation would also create a vicious circle where there are not enough staff to train doctors and even fewer doctors filtering through to reach those high positions.

Rural surgeries and hospitals are certainly struggling to fill key positions but the problem has spread like a virus throughout the Scottish health service, with major health boards such as NHS Lothian reporting key vacancies in paediatrics, immunology and gastroenterology.

Scotland has always been a leader in medicine, with cutting-edge research being conducted across the nation in a variety of specialisms and a range of world-class facilities.

But if trainee medics are forced to go elsewhere to learn their trade, this brain drain may place further pressure on an already stretched health service.

It is crucial that a career in medicine is still seen as an attractive option for young people, otherwise the current NHS model will surely crumble.