Blog: NHS Scotland has been unable to fill a growing number of consultant vacancies

Professor Jackie Taylor writes on the latest External Adviser’s Annual Report for NHS Scotland appointments, which shows that Scotland’s health service has been unable to fill a growing number of consultant vacancies.

Blog: NHS Scotland has been unable to fill a growing number of consultant vacancies

The NHS in Scotland provides world class patient care 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Our Members and Fellows play an integral part of this success story, but are doing so under increasing pressure in the workplace due to staff shortages.

This growing pressure was clearly illustrated in our Physicians’ Census results from 2018, which showed that 43% of consultants in Scotland reported rota gaps “frequently” or “often”. Now the latest report from the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties in Scotland paints a concerning picture about the ability of NHS Scotland to fill vacant consultant posts in our health service.

The Scottish Academy compiles and maintain a list of External Advisers to sit on all consultant appointment panels in Scotland, and compile an annual snapshot of the current recruitment issues faced by the health service here. The data collected is compiled from online surveys completed by recruiting Health Boards and Universities in Scotland as well as directly from the External Advisers who attended the interview panels in 2018.

This year’s report states that there were 525 requests for external advisers to attend consultant interview panels in Scotland in 2018. Of these, 337 (64%) panels were completed with 402 posts appointed.

However, 188 panels were cancelled and, of these, 165 panels were applicant related. This means that there were no applicants, no suitable applicants or that the applicants withdrew prior to an interview.

In addition, the report states:

There has been an increase in the proportion of cancellations due to no applicants from 50% (2015) to 64% (2018) as a percentage of the total number of cancellations. There is an overall increase in applicant related reasons for cancellation increasing gradually from 73% in 2015 to 88% in 2018. This is on a landscape of a reduced number of Consultant Interview panels.

At this time of growing workforce pressures, it’s of great concern that NHS Scotland has been unable to fill a growing number of consultant vacancies. Furthermore, the report shows that the vast majority of applicants for posts within NHS Scotland are drawn from Scotland, while applicants from outside the UK only made up 73 of the appointments made in this period. On this, the report states that:

“efforts to recruit from further afield are not yet effective and the slow pace of MTI and related international placements may suggest Scotland is missing an opportunity to build a reputation overseas.”

These worrying trends must also be viewed in the context of rising demand for health services, and the growing possibility that a no-deal Brexit will exacerbate this situation by ending freedom of movement for medical professions who may otherwise have wished to live and work in the UK.

It’s clear that Scotland has not produced enough clinicians to meet the growing demand for health services in this country, and that our attempts to recruit essential staff from overseas have not yet been successful to the necessary extent.

We need action now from government if we’re to address the growing workforce crisis in our NHS, and ensure that our world-class staff are sufficiently resourced and supported to provide the best possible care for our patients.

Professor Jackie Taylor.

You can read the full External Adviser’s Annual Report for 2018 here.

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