Scottish Government pledges ‘significant expansion’ of trainee doctors to ‘plug gaps’ in workforce

A £32 million commitment from the Scottish Government to recruit almost 140 new trainee doctors could see junior medics being used to “plug gaps” in the workforce, rather than “make a real difference”, the profession has warned.
Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said there would be a “significant expansion of trainee doctors”.Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said there would be a “significant expansion of trainee doctors”.
Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said there would be a “significant expansion of trainee doctors”.

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said there would be a “significant expansion of trainee doctors”, with 139 additional trainees to be taken on in those areas of the NHS that have come under greatest pressure as Scotland looks to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.

This, he said, showed the “Scottish Government’s commitment to support the NHS, not only in response to the pandemic but also as we look beyond and plan ahead to build long-term resilience”.

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However, the British Medical Association cast doubt over the relative scale of the increases compared to the challenges the NHS is facing.

Meanwhile, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh stressed the new recruits needed to be “part of a clear workforce plan for the coming decade”.

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The posts were announced as the NHS comes under sustained pressure during the ongoing coronavirus crisis, with NHS Lanarkshire having moved to the highest risk status while other boards have warned people not to attend accident and emergency unless their condition is “life-threatening”.

Trainee doctors currently make up more than two-fifths (44%) of the doctors employed by NHS boards.

The new posts will see most successful applicants start from autumn 2022, in specialties including cancer, anaesthetics, intensive care, public health and respiratory medicine – but there will be psychiatry training places with a start date of February next year.

Mr Yousaf said: “Our healthcare staff have been vital in our response to Covid-19, which has reinforced the importance of ensuring we have the right staff in the right place at the right time.”

NHS Education Scotland (NES) medical director and deputy chief executive Professor Stewart Irvine said: “We very much welcome this announcement. NES will continue to develop our programmes to ensure that we offer the best possible training for those who choose to pursue their medical career in Scotland and to support our future NHS workforce needs.”

Dr Lailah Peel, chair of the BMA’s Scottish junior doctor committee, welcomed the investment but added: “The relative scale of these increases compared to the challenges the workforce faces means we risk these junior doctors being used simply to plug gaps given the current stretched state of the workforce, rather than make a real difference to workforce shortages in both the short and long term.

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“There are also still considerable consultant vacancies in Scotland along with that huge pressure on the workforce, and as such we need to ensure there is sufficient time and resources for training both the junior doctors we already have and the additional posts.

“Without our senior counterparts, that will be a very difficult task to do.”

She stressed any investment “must be part of a comprehensive and long-term workforce plan which moves beyond year-on-year fluctuations and also allows us to support existing staff to help them get through this coming winter and beyond, so they do not choose to leave the NHS prematurely as a result of exhaustion, stress or feeling undervalued”.

Dr Peel concluded: “This investment to train more doctors is welcome – but it needs to be part of a much bigger plan.”

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