Senior doctors have called on the UK Government to recruit more doctors from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) to combat NHS staff shortages as Brexit approaches.
The Royal Colleges have highlighted the difficulties of recruiting consultants to rural areas like the Highlands in a submission to the government’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC).
The Federation of the Royal Colleges of Physicians said all physician posts across the NHS should be included on the Shortage Occupation List (SOL), which is run by the MAC and records occupations that lack sufficient resident workers to fill vacancies.
The body said the government should recognise that acute and geriatric posts should be added to the SOL in their own right based on the “significant evidence” that these specialties are in national shortage.
It also suggested the MAC should recommend that junior doctor foundation year one and year two posts are added to the SOL.
The document quoted figures showing that on 18 occasions in 2017 an absence of applicants meant that assessment panels to recruit doctors had to be cancelled in NHS Highland – the highest number of any Scottish health board.
In NHS Grampian, the figure was 10 for the same period. Failure to attract an applicant was the most common reason for positions not being filled in Scotland.
Other reasons given in the document included failing to attract appropriate candidates, postponement of assessments and withdrawal of candidates.
According to the document, the proportion of cancelled assessments for consultants in acute medicine in Scotland rose from around 40% in 2016 to over 70% in 2017.
The figure in geriatric medicine rose from around 40% to around 60% over the same period, according to the federation – which is a partnership between the Royal College of Physicians of London, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (RCPE) and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow.
A RCPE spokesman said: “These statistics show that, in Scotland, the most common reason for the cancellation of assessment panels is no applicants. Rural health boards may be more likely to have a greater number of panel cancellations, although higher rates aren’t exclusive to those boards. Medical training from student to consultant takes a minimum of thirteen years: in the short to medium term, international recruitment will have a vital role to play in addressing the considerable workforce shortages that exist.”
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “In June we took action to exempt doctors and nurses from the annual cap on tier two work visas, freeing up hundreds of places a month for other skilled professionals.
“We said then that we would be keeping this change under regular review.
“In June we also commissioned the MAC to review the Shortage Occupation List and they are expecting to report in spring.”