Doctors in Scotland have warned of “immense pressures” on the NHS due to rota gaps, unfilled posts and high levels of sickness absence.
The findings come from a joint census carried out by the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, and the Royal College of Physicians of London
It revealed four out of ten consultants and just under two-thirds – 63% – of higher speciality trainees across the UK report gaps in rotas on a daily or weekly basis.
In Scotland, just over a third – 34% – of consultants reported that a gap in the trainees’ rota occurred daily or weekly, with 16% reporting this caused “significant patient safety problems”.
Around one in five consultants said they had been asked to cover a gap or vacancy in the past year, and seven out of ten said gaps or vacancies negatively affected work-life balance.
However, 78% reported that while rota gaps could cause patient safety problems, solutions are in place to prevent this.
Professor Derek Bell, president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, said the census highlighted the “immense pressures” that exist in the NHS across the UK.
He said: “Physicians work hard to mitigate the impact of rota gaps but these pressures contribute to increased need for consultant presence, poor morale, and insufficient time for service development.
“Put simply, the supply of physicians is not keeping up with demand and this needs to be addressed urgently if we are to continue to recruit and retain and world class workforce to deliver the best possible patient care.”
Professor Bell called for more medical school places and allowing sufficient time for training.
He added: “Similarly, repurposing the current NHS spend on locum and agency staff into permanent posts staff would be a more effective use of this money.”
Professor Jackie Taylor, president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, said the census provides a “definitive picture” of the state of the medical profession today.
She said: “It makes clear that despite the commitment and professionalism of doctors up and down the country, the pressures that we face on a day to day basis are becoming more acute.
She added: “The wellbeing of doctors is suffering because of the increased workforce pressures that we face, and this situation now risks plunging our profession into a downward spiral which contributes to further workforce shortages and rota gaps.
“That’s why we urgently need a comprehensive plan to address the serious issues that this census raises, so we can reduce the stress that doctors are under and take steps to retain practitioners within the NHS.”