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Vast majority of doctors believe NHS staffing levels are unsafe, BMA warns

The BMA has urged the Scottish Government to act to improve NHS staffing levels (PA)
The BMA has urged the Scottish Government to act to improve NHS staffing levels (PA)

Doctors in Scotland are “stretching themselves to breaking point” after a snap survey revealed 80% believe staffing levels are unsafe.

Dr Iain Kennedy, chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA) Scotland, voiced concern at the “dangerously low” staff numbers in the NHS as he urged ministers to “act urgently”.

Of the 610 respondents to the survey, just 1% said they feel their department is well-staffed beyond safe levels.

Forty-nine per cent said staffing levels among doctors and their wider support teams are sometimes unsafe, while 31% said that is the case on a regular basis.

The snap survey, which was sent to around 16,000 BMA Scotland members, also found 62% are worried there will not be enough doctors to meet patient demand this winter.

Seventy-two per cent feel medical staffing has worsened compared to the previous two years, while 83% do not believe there is a proper plan in place to improve recruitment and retention.

Dr Kennedy said the Scottish Government must publish its medical workforce projection strategy, which has been delayed for almost one year.

“Both medical and wider staffing in Scotland’s NHS are at dangerously low levels,” he said.

“Now is not the time for platitudes or to tell us that we are at a record high in terms of doctors, because it simply will not wash with the profession who are stretching themselves to breaking point, risking harm to themselves, in a bid to provide the level of care the people of Scotland need and deserve.”

He said he is “deeply concerned” by the survey responses, with one doctor stating anonymously: “Every week is starting to feel like working in a war zone. This is only going to get worse as the winter progresses”.

Dr Kennedy added: “If the Scottish Government will not heed BMA Scotland’s warnings, I implore ministers and their staff to listen to Scotland’s doctors.”

He said overall whole-time equivalent GP numbers have fallen by more than 5% in 10 years, and consultant vacancies increased by more than 11% in the last year.

He urged ministers to “wake up” to the crisis.

“If I have one wish for 2024 it is this – and I direct this at the Scottish Government in the main – listen to the doctors of Scotland, but don’t just listen,” he said.

“Act, and act urgently. Please. For the future survival of Scotland’s NHS and the patients who rely upon it.

“It is only by solving the medical workforce crisis that you can even think about making progress in other areas, like cutting waiting lists. It is non-negotiable.”

Hospital ward
BMA Scotland urged the Scottish Government to act to tackle the ‘medical workforce crisis’ (PA)

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “NHS Scotland staffing is at record levels, bolstered by our investment since autumn 2021 of some £18 million to recruit 1,250 nurses, midwives and allied health professionals from overseas by the end of this financial year.

“This week’s Scottish Budget increases health spending by more than half a billion, underlining the need for those with the broadest shoulders to pay a little more to invest in public services.

“We are committed to growing our medical training pipeline, and to do so we have increased the number of available medical school places at Scottish universities by 67% (569 places) since 2016 to a record high of 1,417 for 23/24.

“Record levels of investment will also see an additional 153 trainee doctor posts created next year in what will be the largest annual expansion on record, following on from the 152 extra posts created in 2023.

“We have significantly expanded the multi-disciplinary primary care workforce, with total staff of 4,731 whole-time equivalent working in multidisciplinary team services, including physiotherapy, pharmacy and phlebotomy at March 2023 and we are supporting development of these teams through investment of £190 million in 2023-24 through the Primary Care Improvement Fund.

“We are incredibly thankful to the NHS workforce for the vital service they provide and we know they face continued pressure.”