Fife patients suffering as NHS consultant posts go unfilled

Alex Rowley MSP wants to see greater efforts made to recruit consultants.
Alex Rowley MSP wants to see greater efforts made to recruit consultants.

A Fife MSP is calling for action to recruit more consultants in the Kingdom – after it was revealed more than one in six posts are unfilled.

Labour’s Alex Rowley wants Shona Robison, Scottish Government cabinet secretary for health, to address the number of vacant consultant posts in NHS Fife.

In response to a question raised in the Scottish Parliament, Ms Robison said the number of consultants in post in Fife was at a record high, having increased from 168 (full-time equivalent) in September 2006 to 232 in March this year.

However, NHS Fife has 282 consultant posts – and currently 52.6 are vacant.

Mr Rowley has now written to Ms Robison pointing out this is an issue he has raised on numerous occasions.

He accepted it was not an issue of the government’s making, but he was frustrated by the lack of progress in trying to find solutions.

Mr Rowley said: “It is, in my view, clear from the figures that NHS Fife on its own is unable to address the recruitment problem it is having with consultants, and the government needs to step in and set out a timetable for bringing forward alternative approaches.

“We have been talking about this issue for far too long. We need to see alternative solutions being explored and developed.”

The vacancy rate for consultant posts in Fife (18 per cent) is much higher than for Scotland as a whole (7.7 per cent). It appears the Kingdom may be suffering from being situated between the cities of Dundee and Edinburgh.

Mr Rowley said that Alex Neil – Ms Robison’s predecessor – had told him there were no major difficulties in the recruitment and retention of consultants in city NHS areas.

This was put down to the cities having teaching hospitals and larger populations, meaning consultants had better working arrangements on issues like hours and weekend cover.

Mr Rowley added he was told the government would look at ways to address the less attractive proposition of working in more rural and less populated areas – but he had seen little evidence of this.

“This situation is not good for patients in Fife,” he said.

“We already operate in Fife as part of a wider city region when looking at local economy issues and strategic planning, so I am keen to explore how best we could adopt a city region approach to support our hospitals in Fife.”

Ms Robison accepted the government needed to look at more innovative ways of addressing the problem. She acknowledged the efforts being made by NHS Fife to fill vacancies in whatever way it could.

Ms Robison said: “The position in Fife reflects the fact that we have some of the highest staffing levels ever across our NHS, including record numbers of consultants.

“The increase in vacancies is linked to efforts to increase capacity by recruiting even more staff.”