Vacant consultant posts are ‘a national crisis’ says Fife councillor

Operating theatre at Victoria Hospital
Operating theatre at Victoria Hospital

More networking could help to combat the shortage in acute consultants at NHS Fife.

That’s the view of Independent councillor Andrew Rodger, Fife Council’s executive spokesman for health, who picked up on the issue at Tuesday’s meeting of NHS Fife Board.

There is currently a shortage of 40 consultants - with the highest number of vacancies in the care of the elderly (5.9 vacancies), emergency medicine (4.5), gastroenterology (4.4) and anaesthetics (four), according to figures released from NHS Fife.

In the case of care of the elderly, there are locums in place to cover shortages; in emergency medicine there are locums and junior and senior clinical fellows; in gastroenterology an appointment has been made, with the other vacancies being covered part-time, and in anaesthetics, there are locums and cover in place with three appointments made and one in progress.

A health authority spokesman said the region shares the problem with other district general hospitals across Scotland which are also experiencing challenges in recruiting consultant posts.

Cllr Rodger, who is a member of Fife NHS Board, said: “There is a shortage of 40 consultants at NHS Fife and this led to an £8m overspend in acute medicine last year. This year in the first two months we are over a million pounds overspent.

‘‘There is a national crisis in Scotland, We need to up the numbers going through medical school.”

He believes more networking could help.

‘‘It has to happen between consultants until the number of consultants increase, but this could take at least eight years. We have to do more networking so consultants can come in and go to district hospitals as well as training hospitals like Ninewells in Dundee.

“If we are going to transfer money from acute into the community we have to speak to the government and the health secretary because it is not a level playing field - we need more money to put into the district general hospitals like the Victoria.

‘‘We also need new ways of working in the community to meet the demand of patients being discharged from acute.”

He added: “If you have the same consultants they get to know the patients, whereas locums just come and go. This is not the same as patients having their own consultant.”

Heather Knox, director of NHS Fife Acute Services, said: “In common with other district general hospitals, we are experiencing challenges in recruiting consultant posts. These vacancies are covered by locums and our own staff also work extra hours to ensure our services continue to be provided.”