Retaining senior doctors will be essential if the Scottish NHS is to recover from the coronavirus crisis because the health service is already facing staff shortages, the British Medical Association (BMA) Scotland has warned.
Vacancies for consultants may have risen to as high as 15.2% for the workforce, according to BMA Scotland, with doctors reporting “widespread burnout” even before the pandemic hit.
The trade union is calling for urgent action from the Scottish Government to stop a “deeply worrying drain of senior doctors out of the workforce”.
A report published by BMA Scotland found one in five consultants who were aged 45-49 in 2010 had left the profession by 2020 – with early retirement being the most likely destination.
Freedom of information requests by the professional body for doctors also indicated that the actual vacancy rate for doctors was at least twice the government’s official figure.
A BMA survey also shows that more than 45% of the 261 consultants who responded are considering retiring in the next five years, with more than half earlier than the normal pension age.
Dr Graeme Eunson, chairman of the BMA’s Scottish consultants committee, described the findings as “extremely worrying” and argued staff shortages were “already affecting the ability of doctors to deliver the high-quality patient care they strive for”.
“It is vital that this chronic shortage of doctors is finally addressed by a decisive plan to retain senior doctors, which considers how we support them throughout their career,” Dr Eunson said.
He added: “I cannot be any clearer when I say that in order for our NHS to recover, our staff must recover first.
“There needs to be a focus on recovery and wellbeing for all staff who have been responding to the pandemic, with tangible investment in our core NHS staff: without that, it will be impossible to get the NHS back to where we want – and need – it to be.”
Urging the government to address the doctor shortage as part of the health service’s recovery, Dr Eunson continued: “We need to see serious steps taken in Scotland to make working as a doctor an appealing career choice and show doctors they are valued.
“That means focused efforts on recruitment and retention, improved work-life balance, and a concentrated effort on improving the mental and physical wellbeing of staff, which includes steps to improve the overall working culture within the NHS.
“I very much look forward to Scottish ministers addressing these key issues as part of their Covid-19 recovery strategy before it’s too late.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Since 2006 the number of consultants employed by NHS Scotland has increased by over 56%, with a record high of 5,702 whole time equivalent consultants.
“We are committed to improving the wellbeing of health and social care staff across Scotland and have taken immediate action to provide support while they respond to the pandemic.
“We are also working to build a sustainable culture that will continue to prioritise staff wellbeing in the future.
“We have asked our NHS and social care staff to work through unprecedented times and often in unfamiliar settings. Many have been asked to learn new skills and work in new roles in unfamiliar teams.
“They have also had to adjust to the impact the pandemic has had on our personal lives and communities, including having to care for their own families.
“This has been, and continues to be a huge ask and we are deeply grateful for the hard work, commitment and professionalism of those working in health and social care, at this time of unprecedented challenge.”
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