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BMA claims consultant vacancies in NHS Tayside are higher than reported

Ninewells Hospital, Dundee
Many staff changed roles and worked in Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, during the pandemic.

A row over senior doctor vacancies has prompted a union to claim there’s been zero progress in a year.

BMA Scotland claims consultant vacancies across Scotland are “highly concerning.”

FOI figures they received for Tayside suggest vacancies could be much higher than national figures released by the Scottish Government.

But the Government says consultant vacancy rates are better this quarter and announced this week staffing levels across the health service overall are at record levels.

NHS Fife issue ID warning amid fake nurse scam
NHS vacancies are under examination.

The stark reality of the lack of consultants has made headlines most recently because of the breast cancer care revelations in Tayside.

NHS Tayside’s consultant vacancies are almost double the national average.

The BMA claims these figures don’t tell the whole story and that the stats could be much higher. They say the Government’s figures underestimate the problem.

“It is highly concerning there has been no improvement to the NHS staffing crisis among senior doctors in Scotland at all over the past 12 months,” BMA Scotland Consultant Chair Graeme Eunson says.

The BMA asked for consultant vacancies under FOI including vacancies not normally included in official figures, which they say paint a different picture.

What are the BMA’s figures?

The BMA say:

  • FOI data they received shows the vacancy rate across Scotland could be as high as 15.2%.
  • The vacancy rate for Tayside could be as high as 20.31% (including locums).
  • They claim that means one in five consultants posts are vacant in Tayside.
BMA hits out at vacancies.

What is the Government saying?

In response, a Scottish Government spokesperson says vacancy rates for consultants have fallen this quarter.

They tell us:

  • There are 5,902 medical and dental consultants in Scotland.
  • That’s a rise of 62.3% since September 2006.
  • The current vacancy rate for consultants in Scotland is 7.1%.
  • That compares to 8.8% in the previous quarter.
Health Secretary Humza Yousaf
The BMA met with Mr Yousaf last month.

They add the Health Secretary met with BMA last month and they’re listening to concerns to address challenges in partnership with unions.

“Staffing levels across NHS Scotland have reached a record high after an increase of over 7,600 whole time equivalent staff in the last year.

“The Scottish Government has committed to increasing medical undergraduate places by 100 per year, which is an additional 500 over the course of this parliament.”

Investment and recruitment

They also point to investment of £11 million over the next five years.

But BMA Scotland Consultant Chair Graeme Eunson says the Government need to start properly counting vacancies.

A consultant studying a mammogram.

He says: “Once again the Scottish Government is telling us that NHS staffing levels are at a record high – this couldn’t be more demoralising to a workforce which is depleted, exhausted and facing burnout.

“The FOI suggests the actual consultant vacancy rate is 15.2% – the same as it was this time last year, and significantly higher than official figures say.

“So, despite 12 months of promises to recruit more senior staff, no improvement has been made.”

National shortage

A spokesperson for NHS Tayside says: “Like many other Health Boards, NHS Tayside is affected by a national shortage in some specialist services and professions.

“In Tayside, 13.5% of consultant posts are currently vacant.

“We actively recruit to fill any vacant consultant posts. Where vacancies do rise, we also use locum specialists to ensure delivery of services until a permanent consultant is appointed.

“We continue to strengthen the relationship with our further education partners and support the delivery of high quality training through our medical training programme.

“NHS Tayside has an ongoing international recruitment campaign for nursing staff, and a further campaign is being planned for consultant and other medical staff.”

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