Paediatric doctors warn over impact of staffing shortages

Children's doctors have warned paediatric care is being 'increasingly compromised' due to staff shortages in specialist units.

Half of Scottish paediatricians said they were very concerned. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Half of Scottish paediatricians said they were very concerned. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Half of Scottish paediatricians surveyed by the Royal College of Paediatric and Child Health (RCPCH) said they were “very concerned” that their service would not be able cope with demand over the next six months.

The annual UK-wide survey found that none of the paediatric units in Scotland had permanent resident consultants and one in ten shifts went unfilled in Scottish hospitals between January and March.

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NHS Lothian, one of Scotland’s largest health boards, has been forced to close one of its children’s wards to inpatients on a number of occasions due to lack of staff.

Dr Simon Clark, RCPCH workforce officer, said: “The paediatric workforce is at breaking point and children’s healthcare is increasingly being compromised.

“There is no escaping the fact that an increase in junior and consultant posts is urgently needed, coupled with a radical re-design of services.”

Staffing levels across NHS Scotland reached a record high this year but increasing demand for services has left health boards struggling to plug the gaps.

There were more than 2,200 nursing and midwifery vacancies in March and more than a quarter of GP practices reported at least one vacancy.

Working more closely with GPs could ease pressure on children’s services, according to Scottish paediatrician Dr Steve Turner.

Dr Turner, a consultant at Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital, said: “Recruitment and retention of staff in Scotland continues to be a difficult issue to tackle.

“We need to support our beleaguered colleagues in primary care and also work with patients who often don’t want to be in hospital in the first place.”

Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar said the findings were a result of poor planning by the Scottish Government and urged ministers to heed the warning. He said: “It’s time for the SNP to ditch the short-term, sticking-plaster solutions to our NHS and give our hardworking staff the support they need.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We have invested significantly in the paediatric workforce over the past ten years, which has led to an 84 per cent rise in the number of paediatric consultants.

“NHS boards are responsible for delivering clinical services and will always consider local issues, demands and implications for how services are delivered, ensuring that safe and sustainable out-of-hours arrangements are in place.”