The Recently Appointed Consultants’ Committee has welcomed the BMA’s recent report: Consultant retention in Scotland 2021.

The report makes for bleak reading with the finding that the consultant vacancy rate in Scotland could be more than double the official government figures and has increased over the past two years. This demonstrates that the scale of the problem is significantly underestimated.

According to the report, the overall consultant vacancy rate now sits at over 15%, with many of these vacancies being long term. More than a third of consultant appointment panels were cancelled in 2019; 85% of panels cancelled were due to there being no applicant, no suitable applicant or the applicant withdrawing. The Census of Consultants and Higher Specialty Trainees in 2019 showed that 43% of consultants in Scotland are expected to reach the age of 60 over the next decade. Disproportionately punishing tax charges on pensions are pushing consultants towards early retirement and to reducing their workload.

These workforce shortages impact patient safety and staff wellbeing. Current consultant numbers cannot meet healthcare demand especially in the context of increasing population age, frailty, complexity and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic.

Increasing consultant numbers does not offer the full solution. The Recently Appointed Consultants’ Committee is calling for a number of measures to improve the situation:

  • Ensure that workforce planning is based on robust data that reflect real-time vacancies and anticipate future patient demand.
  • Invest in our doctors in training, building on the prescient investments in medical school places and Internal Medicine Training posts in Scotland.
  • Increase the number of Higher Specialty Training posts in Scotland to ensure that we can train sufficient consultants to meet patient need and provide high quality care.
  • Make medical training more flexible, with consideration of recruitment and retention and of the different needs across our complex geography.
  • Ensure consultants have the time to train and teach as well as time for quality improvement measures to innovate and streamline how care is provided.
  • Assess what more can be done to retain our senior doctors, for example, revisiting punitive pension policies and enabling career development opportunities.

Dr Marion Slater, Chair of the Recently Appointed Consultants’ Committee, said:

“Scotland has a long history of excellence in medical training and patient care, and we must remain committed to this. Never has it been more important to care for our doctors to enable them to deliver the best possible care for their patients.

“We must continue to invest in medical students and doctors to ensure that medicine in Scotland offers an attractive and sustainable career for the long term benefit of the NHS in Scotland and for world-class patient care.”

Lisa Rooke

Contact: Lisa Rooke l.rooke@rcpe.ac.uk 0131 247 3688