Neurology recruitment crisis is ‘affecting patient care’

Prof Malcolm Macleod. Picture: Stewart Attwood
Prof Malcolm Macleod. Picture: Stewart Attwood
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A LEADING neurology expert at the University of Edinburgh has told MSPs that a “recruitment crisis” is now affecting patient care.

Professor Malcolm Macleod, who is also clinical lead for neurology at NHS Forth Valley, said use of locums caused “chaos”. Giving evidence to Holyrood’s Health and Sport Committee, he said the health board recently received no applications for a consultant neurology post.

He said: “I’d like to have five applicants for every job so I could choose the very best and just now I’d take anyone who’ll apply and make it through to interview.

“And I don’t think that’s good for patients with neurological diseases in Scotland.”

He said there were many reasons behind the recruitment issues, including consultants in Scotland no longer being in line for higher awards, unlike England, and a 15-20 per cent real terms drop in salaries across the health service in the past seven years.

Mr Macleod, Professor of Neurology at the University of Edinburgh, said junior doctors were leaving to go into finance “because they don’t see it as a career for someone like them”.

He said Forth Valley health board, like others, was behind on some waiting times for neurology and in a bid to treat urgent referrals would see patients before clinics began. He said waiting for neurological assessment could cause anxiety but locums were not helpful.

He said: “I detest this bringing in activity from outside. I think it’s driven by a desire for boards to meet their waiting time targets but it is very disruptive.

“We had people coming in doing clinics over the weekend and we audited what happened and the rate at which they requested investigation was much higher than our in-house neurologists, the rate of complaints was much higher, the rate of return appointments made was much lower and the chaos that ensued was much, much, much higher.

“It would have been quicker if I had seen those 100 patients than it was to clean up the mess afterwards.”

The committee also heard from Tanith Muller, vice-chair of the Neurological Alliance of Scotland, who said use of locums to address the “recruitment crisis” can be unhelpful.

She said health boards brought in locum neurologists who do not know the local support services for conditions such as Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis, leaving patients “struggling” following diagnosis.

Shadow health secretary Miles Briggs said: “It is abundantly clear that the use of locums is not a long-term solution for the staffing problems faced by NHS Scotland. SNP Ministers’ mismanagement of NHS Scotland over the last ten years has led to this situation where doctors no longer want to work for the NHS and are finding alternative career paths.

“It is absolutely vital this is addressed and that being a junior doctor is once again an attractive career path.”

Scottish Lib Dems health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Health boards are under huge pressure. This is bad for patients and bad for overworked staff.”