HEALTH chiefs are banking on doctors from across the globe riding to their rescue as they bid to solve a fresh staffing crisis.
The obstetrics and gynaecology department at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary – where 7000 babies are delivered every year – has seen the staffing situation worsen in recent months.
Almost a quarter of junior doctor training posts are unfilled across south-east Scotland, with high levels of maternity leave, an exodus of staff leaving temporarily to gain skills in other areas and more choosing to go part-time factors blamed for the situation.
A recent rise in unexpected sickness absence has caused an added headache for managers, who have been relying on highly paid locums to fill gaps in their rotas.
But despite a junior locum role attracting pay of almost £50,000 per year and more than £100,000 per year on offer to locum consultants, they have struggled to find competent staff.
It has been admitted that agency locums, who cost even more, will also be relied on for the foreseeable future while consultants have been forced to carry out roles they are over-qualified for.
In a bid to find a long-term solution, doctors from outside Europe will be targeted in the hope that the success of an attempt to attract children’s medics to Lothian can be repeated.
Labour Lothians MSP Sarah Boyack said that the health service could not keep counting on agency staff to fill “basic gaps”.
“It’s absolutely vital that we have the right number of qualified professionals to staff obstetrics and gynaecology services,” she added. “Once again we’ve not just got a problem in the Lothians, but there’s a shortage of locums across Scotland too. The Scottish Government needs to do more to sort this out.”
There are fears that should there be a further deterioration in staffing numbers, even more highly-skilled consultants will have to cover junior doctors’ jobs out of hours. As well as being expensive, it means services during the day when more patients are seen will be left short-staffed.
Discussions over creating clinical fellow posts – which would see newly qualified doctors offered to chance to try out working in obstetrics and gynaecology without having to commit to a long-term training programme – are taking place.
As well as looking outside the EU, it is understood that it is hoped that English professionals may be persuaded to move north. Dr David Farquharson, NHS Lothian’s medical director, said: “Medical staffing continues to be a challenge across Scotland and the UK. Our dedicated teams have been working extremely hard to develop sustainable solutions which allow us to maintain safe and effective services across all our hospital sites.
“We have invested significantly in recruitment with 30 appointments to our emergency department teams, 12 to our paediatric and neonatal teams and six to our obstetrics and gynaecology teams. However we do continue to rely on internal and external locums to support these areas.
“We are continuing to work with our colleagues within the South East and Tayside region and the rest of Scotland to identity areas that may be at risk from staffing shortages and to put in place action plans to ensure services can be maintained.”