Services at risk as Scotland faces doctor shortage

Vacancies for consultants in the Scottish NHS at the highest level for six years. Picture: Greg Macvean
Vacancies for consultants in the Scottish NHS at the highest level for six years. Picture: Greg Macvean
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Scotland faces a shortage of doctors in some areas of practice due to difficulties in recruitment, leaving services at risk, the new leader of the country’s consultants has warned.

Dr Nikki Thompson, new chair of the British Medical Association’s Scottish Consultants Committee, said the problem was already starting to have an impact on services.

The consultant anaesthetist from Tayside also warned of the increasing pressure and intensity of work experienced by doctors in the NHS which she said was not sustainable in the long-term.

Recent figures showed vacancies for consultants in the Scottish NHS are currently running at the highest level for six years, with almost one in 20 jobs unfilled.

The problem is particularly bad in some departments, with more than 12 per cent of emergency medicine posts unfilled and 18 per cent of acute medicine positions.

Dr Thompson said: “In light of the high number of consultant post vacancies across Scotland, it is essential that Scotland is able to attract and retain high quality consultants.

“There are already some specialties where it is becoming particularly difficult to recruit and we are starting to see the impact of that on the provision of services.”

On the issue of stress among medics, Dr Thompson added: “Doctors report that they are facing relentless pressure in their day to day work just to keep up with the pace of demand and meet targets whilst maintaining the quality of care they believe their patients deserve.

“This increased intensity of work, unless addressed, will lead to rising levels of stress and burnout among doctors.”

Dr Thompson, the first woman to lead Scotland’s consultants, said she would continue the work of former chairman Lewis Morrison to highlight the importance of the contribution consultants make in the face of challenging financial circumstances.

“The NHS is in a prolonged period of financial restraint and doctors are working harder than ever before to maintain the focus on quality and achieve improved outcomes for patients in such a difficult environment,” she said.