Scotland’s lack of children’s doctors puts young people at risk, say medical experts in new report

Unless urgent action is taken, a shortage of children’s doctors in Scotland is putting young people’s health at significant risk and could damage the health of future generations, claims the RCPCH's latest workforce report.

The report, published by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, reveals that the paediatric workforce in Scotland is on the brink of a recruitment crisis. The current workforce must expand and include the appointment of at least 82 more consultant paediatricians – an increase of a quarter (25%) – in order to deliver the required standards of care to children and young people.

As it stands, the number of paediatric consultants has increased by just 5% between 2015 and 2017, lower than the increase in England over this time (8.2%).

General paediatrics is the area experiencing the biggest shortfall in staff, accounting for well over half of the extra recruitment needed. General paediatricians look after children from birth to late adolescence, and are trained to manage multiple health problems ranging from life-threatening illnesses to chronic diseases.

The RCPCH report makes clear recommendations:

  • NHS Education for Scotland (NES) to develop a bespoke child health workforce strategy which includes a wide range of professionals such as doctors, midwives, nurses, pharmacists, health visitors and school nurses
  • the Scottish Government to maintain the 2019 uplift in the number of paediatric trainee places in Scotland
  • funding for an extra year of GP training which includes paediatric and child health training for all trainees
  • incentives such as pay bonuses to be introduced to attract and retain paediatricians, particularly in remote or rural areas
  • expansion of the non-medical paediatric workforce plus new models of care to be introduced quickly, using technology such as consultations by video link

Professor Steve Turner, Officer for Scotland at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said that the report clearly highlighted the impending seriousness of the paediatric workforce situation.

Tackling the shortage of paediatric doctors needs to be a priority. We know that unless more doctors are trained to be paediatricians today, the situation where paediatric wards are being closed will only get worse. The good news is that we know that Scottish doctors want to train in paediatrics in Scotland, and there are three young doctors applying for each job. We also know that doctors who train in Scotland are highly likely to become consultants in Scotland. However, the reality is that we are seeing vacancies and gaps in rotas across Scotland, especially in centres outside of the central belt. Our calculations suggest that at least 82 more consultant paediatricians need to be trained to meet demand.

The need to increase trainee numbers in paediatrics has been recognised and we are grateful that eight additional posts will be available for 2019 – but this is a one-off “sticking plaster” which does not address the underlying problem. I urge the Scottish Government, NHS Education Scotland, and the Scottish Health Boards to reflect on our findings and seriously consider how best to implement our recommendations as a matter of urgency. Failing to take the necessary steps now will be to the detriment of our children both today and in the future.

You can view the report in full on the workforce pages on the RCPCH website.