A top doctor has claimed the recruitment of consultants in the Highlands has been hit by uncertainty over Scotland’s future.
Stephen Thomas says insecurity about the outcome of next week’s independence referendum has caused a drop in the number of job applications from south of the border.
The health board regularly employs locums to fill vacancies at its flagship Raigmore Hospital in Inverness – and the cost of them has contributed to soaring costs at the facility.
Dr Thomas, a consultant respiratory physician, claimed the recruitment problem had deepened over the past few months.
He said: “The provision of health care is about more than funding. It is also about having highly trained staff to deliver the service.
“Raigmore Hospital, for instance, has a significant number of consultants who were trained in England, or who have moved from consultant posts there.
“There are currently consultant vacancies in a number of critically important specialities including cancer services, respiratory medicine, radiology, and rheumatology.
“It is widely acknowledged that the independence referendum has made recruitment to these positions from outside Scotland more difficult because of the uncertainly that has been created.”
And he added: “This uncertainty will persist if there is a Yes vote on September 18 because the details of the independence arrangements, including in relation to currency, require negotiation.
“After independence it is anticipated that it will be more difficult to recruit from England and Wales than has previously been the case.
“Whilst I have utmost respect for those who wish to achieve independence, voters should remember that the provision of health care is about more than funding.
“It requires staff to deliver the service, and if there are not staff available then the service will, at the very least, be significantly impaired.
“A Yes vote next week is likely to further exacerbate an already difficult staffing situation.”
An NHS Highland spokesman said that currently the board was recruiting for 13 consultant vacancies.
He said: “NHS Highland recognises that Dr Stephen Thomas was writing in a personal capacity and that it is not appropriate for NHS Highland to comment on that particular debate.
“However, as in the past, we continue to experience difficulty recruiting consultants to posts.”
He added: “We also face particular problems in relation to the recruitment and retention of all medical staff, including GPs – not just consultants – in some of our remote and rural areas.
“This is not solely an NHS Highland problem – healthcare providers operating in many remote and rural areas throughout the world face similar difficulties.”
He said that NHS Highland was now considering implementing recruitment strategies suggested by marketing company Orchid.