Urgent action is required to avert “serious staffing issues” in Scotland’s hospitals due to the number of doctors reaching retirement, it has been claimed.
According to the latest figures, more than a fifth of NHS consultants are now aged 55 or above – and able to consider retirement – with more than 100 over 65. This accounts for 21.3 per cent of the consultant workforce as of September, compared to 20.2 per cent the year before and 18.7 per cent in 2014.
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Miles Briggs said: “We’re going to have even more serious staffing issues in Scotland’s hospitals if the SNP government doesn’t take urgent action.
“We already know the numbers of doctors in training have fallen to a five-year low. Now we learn at the other end of the spectrum, the consultant workforce is ageing at a considerable rate.
“Even in just a few years the number of consultants who’ll be considering retirement has risen and now accounts for more than a fifth of that workforce.
“It’s another indictment of the SNP’s shambolic workforce planning, and patients and those workers left over will be the ones who suffer.”
The figures quoted come from health service body ISD Scotland. Last month the Scottish Conservatives revealed the number of doctors in training was at a five-year low.
The BMA Scotland has expressed fears the official vacancy figure for consultants – set at 6.8 per cent – is more likely to be around 14 per cent.
Simon Barker, chairman of BMA Scotland’s consultant committee, said: “Our members have consistently told us that there are simply not enough doctors working in our NHS to deliver the quality care we are all striving for.
“Indeed, in our recent member survey, nine out of ten doctors thought staffing was inadequate for providing quality care. This is simply not good enough and these figures suggest the problem could get worse before it gets better.
“That is why it is crucial that everything possible is done to ensure becoming a doctor and remaining a doctor in Scotland is attractive and sustainable. That means improving work/life balance and ensuring doctors at all stages of their career feel genuinely valued and can do their jobs in properly staffed services.”
Mr Barker said that meant reversing years of real-terms pay cuts, which had hit senior doctors the hardest. He said: “Without doing that, there simply isn’t the right incentive in place to retain doctors approaching retirement who have devoted their careers to delivering frontline care.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Consultant staffing numbers in NHS Scotland are at a record high level … More than 60 per cent of consultant staff in NHS Scotland are aged under 50. We continue to invest in the medical workforce and by 2021 we will have increased the number of medical places at Scotland’s universities from 848 to a record high of 1,038.
“The Scottish Government has been working with the Royal College of Surgeons and others to create a locum medical bank, using a pool of retired consultant staff who have expressed an interest in working in remote and rural areas. Through the staff bank, retired consultant staff can continue to provide valuable services to NHS Scotland.”