Scotland lags behind England in consultant paediatrician numbers and Holyrood ministers have been told they must act to address the issue, in study by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH).
To deliver the required standards of care to children and young people, the number of paediatric consultants must rise by 25 per cent, or 82 doctors, according to the RCPCH.
The situation has been branded “truly shocking” by opposition parties, which have accused the Scottish Government of complacency.
The children’s ward at St John’s hospital in Livingston has been among the worst hit in Scotland by paediatric shortages, closing its doors to in-patients for the past 20 months as a result. It is due to re-open this month.
The Scottish Government was criticised when it emerged last month that a national action plan to tackle NHS staff shortages had been delayed for a second time.
Professor Steve Turner, Officer for Scotland at the RCPCH, said: “Tackling the shortage of paediatric doctors needs to be a priority. We know that unless more doctors are trained to be paediatricians today, the situation where paediatric wards are being closed will only get worse.”
He added: “The need to increase trainee numbers in paediatrics has been recognised and we are grateful that eight additional posts will be available for 2019 – but this is a one-off ‘sticking plaster’ which does not address the underlying problem.”
The Scottish Government, NHS Education Scotland, and health boards are being urged to implement the report’s recommendations as a “matter of urgency”.
“Failing to take the necessary steps now will be to the detriment of our children both today and in the future.”
Consultant growth in Scotland is failing to keep pace with the rest of the UK, with the number of doctors increasing by 5 per cent between 2015 and 2017, compared with 8.2 per cent south of the Border. More consultants are also seeking to shorter working weeks, but Scotland is again falling behind the curse on this with fewer “less than full-time” consultants.
And it comes at a time when demand is rising. Emergency paediatric admissions topped 59,000 last year (2017-18), up from fewer than 56,000 the years before. The 9.3 per cent rise in admissions over the past two years compares with an increase in the consultant workforce of just 4.8 per cent.
There are also concerns in Scotland about remote and rural areas. As in the rest of the health service, these regions face higher costs.
The report added: “The shortfall in medical paediatric staffing across Scotland is clearly seen in rates of rota gaps and vacancies which are higher than the UK overall.”
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Miles Briggs said: “These are truly shocking figures, highlighting a terrifying lack of paediatric doctors.
“It’s extremely worrying that the SNP’s failure to ensure we have enough paediatricians could jeopardise the treatment and care of children.”
Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon said: “Our NHS is facing a workforce crisis, with not enough staff to deliver the care patients deserve – and people will be shocked to see that this extends to the care of our children.
“The frank truth is there has been a total sense of complacency from the government on the staffing problems our NHS faces.”