Scottish election 2021: One in 14 consultant roles unfilled in Scottish hospitals

Almost one in every 14 consultant level NHS roles are currently unfilled, with health boards advertising positions up to 24 times without hiring anyone, new figures have revealed.

Data obtained by the Scottish Liberal Democrats under the Freedom of Information Act found 381 out of 5,367 consultant roles at NHS health boards in Scotland are currently vacant – around 7 per cent.

More than a third of consultant roles are vacant in Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.

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NHS Forth Valley has reported a long-standing general psychiatry vacancy unfilled since November 2014 that has been advertised six times. In Orkney, the figure is as high as 50 per cent.

Liberal Democrats health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton raised concerns over the number of consultants' vacancies in the NHS in Scotland.

A total of 102 vacancies have been unfilled for more than a year, while Dumfries and Galloway report elderly care consultant vacancies which have been advertised on 24 occasions without a single applicant and a diabetes consultant role advertised 23 times with only two applicants.

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “These figures show the stresses and strains that our NHS is operating under. This will be worrying for patients and mean extra work for existing staff.

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"Staff are working around the clock, but they aren’t getting anywhere close to the support and resources they need. The workforce is being stretched more thinly than ever, while dealing with more and more challenging workloads.”

Mr Cole-Hamilton said his party’s plan for NHS recovery included an annual workforce report that would be presented to Parliament for debate.

He said: “If there is a nationalist majority, nothing will change. When Nicola Sturgeon was health secretary, she cut hundreds of nursing and midwifery posts, saying it was ‘the sensible way forward’. The Scottish Government’s integrated workforce plan was a year late.

"Scotland desperately needs a comprehensive recovery plan, which includes proposals for training and recruiting the staff that every health board is crying out for.

“The stark choice is between a nationalist majority that will prioritise independence or Scottish Liberal Democrat MSPs who will put recovery first with a needle-sharp focus on rebuilding our NHS.

"Scottish Liberal Democrats are within reach each of new seats in every part of Scotland. And our gains would make all the difference."

In its election manifesto, the SNP pledged a “transformational increase” in spending on the NHS, including establishing a fast-track cancer diagnostic centre in every health board area and investing in and reforming mental health services, with a particular focus on child and adolescent services.

An SNP spokesperson said: "Staffing levels in the NHS are higher than they ever have been.

"Under the SNP consultant numbers are at a record high, having increased by almost 60 per cent. That means over 2,000 more consultants work in our NHS than when we first took office.

"Scotland also has a higher staffing number per head than NHS England.

"Remobilising our NHS will be crucial in our recovery out of the pandemic and the SNP's manifesto makes a commitment to increase frontline NHS spending by at least 20 per cent, more than £2.5 billion."

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