A senior doctor has warned the NHS in Scotland “is in full blown crisis”.
Dr Graeme Eunson, chair of the British Medical Association Scotland’s Consultant Committee, also said he cannot recall a time in his career “when things have been this tough”.
Writing on his blog, he said NHS job vacancies, including all empty posts, are at about 15%.
He added: “What I hear consistently – and indeed at our committee meeting – is that consultants are prepared to stick at it for this winter and while we remain in pandemic.
“And that’s backed up by evidence from our recent survey of doctors following this year’s pay award.
“When you analyse those figures and filter out those too young to take voluntary early retirement (VER), some 70% of consultants asked said they were planning to take VER – either prompted (19.2%), or confirmed (30%) by the pay award, or were going to do it regardless of pay (21%).
“If this is in any way representative – and we fear it is – and we don’t act urgently, then the NHS faces an exodus of consultants from NHS Scotland in the near future.
“One of the main reasons I fear for the future even beyond the tough times of the next few months is the rock bottom morale of what is frankly an exhausted consultant workforce.
“The system is at capacity – there are few beds available, all the staff I know are stretched to the limit and we are having to rely on help from the military and drafting in students to help us cope.
“None of this is sustainable – for the system, for senior doctors and the rest of the staff of the NHS, or for patients and the care they rightly expect.
“Stop-gap solutions may just help us get through this winter – although that remains to be seen – but even beyond that the picture looks bleak.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care meets regularly with the BMA where all issues related to the medical workforce are discussed.
“We recognise the challenges health and social care services are experiencing. That is why we have announced a record £300 million of new investment in measures to help services deal with system pressures over winter.
“To ensure our health and social care staff can continue to be able to best care for us, we need to make sure we continue to care for them by looking after their wellbeing this winter. This is why we are investing an additional £4 million in staff wellbeing measures, in addition to the £8 million made available through the NHS Recovery Plan.
“As well as direct workforce investment, we are introducing measures to maximise capacity in our hospitals, reduce delayed discharges and improve social care pay.
“These measures will ensure patients are cared for in the right setting within their community and alleviate pressures on frontline health services.”
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