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Scottish Health Board Spending Over £1 Million Annually on Only Two Locum Consultants

Scottish Healthcare Practitioner (Credits: Greater Manchester Primary Care Careers)

NHS Western Isles, a Scottish health board, faces substantial expenditures exceeding £1 million annually for two locum consultants, as revealed during a tribunal session.

The health board is allocating nearly £1.2 million towards the salaries of two senior psychiatrists on a locum basis, marking an increase of £100,000 from the previous year’s spending.

This financial commitment has raised concerns among political parties, with Labour emphasizing the need for inquiries into the Scottish National Party (SNP) government’s oversight of NHS Western Isles’ shortage of specialist staff.

Scottish Health Worker (Credits: BBC)

On the other hand, the Liberal Democrats have urged the Scottish Government to revamp its workforce planning strategies and increase the number of consultant psychiatrists in training to effectively address these staffing gaps.

During the tribunal proceedings, it was highlighted that employing locum consultants can cost the health service up to £600,000 annually, majorly surpassing the £200,000 expenditure of hiring a consultant psychiatrist in a permanent position.

The health board’s struggle to fill permanent positions with doctors has led to an overreliance on temporary staff, impacting the quality of care for other patients.

The tribunal’s attention was drawn to a specific case involving consultant psychiatrist Denitza Mihaylova, who was terminated from her position due to illness that prevented her from fulfilling on-call duties at night.

Over nearly two years, the NHS had to hire locums to cover her absence, resulting in substantial costs. Despite Mihaylova’s legal challenge citing disability discrimination and unfair dismissal, the tribunal ruled in favor of the health board, emphasizing the need for responsible budget management.

Figures presented during the tribunal showcased the financial allocations toward mental health services within the health board’s budget. For the fiscal year 2022/23, the total budget for mental health services amounted to £2,843,881, with £520,986 specifically allocated for psychiatry.

Scottish Healthcare Practitioners (Credits: The Independent)

However, the actual expenditure on locum costs for two doctors in that period totaled £1,073,308, including the locum hired to cover Mihaylova’s absence.

Looking ahead to the fiscal year 2023/24, the budget for mental health services saw a substantial increase to £4,314,314, with a psychiatry budget of £611,775. The projected cost of employing two locum consultant psychiatrists following Mihaylova’s dismissal was estimated at £1,179,076.

Reacting to these revelations, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader Jackie Baillie expressed concerns about the massive spending on locum psychiatrists and called for accountability regarding the SNP government’s management of NHS Western Isles’ staffing challenges.

Meanwhile, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton highlighted the broader staffing crisis within NHS mental health services and urged the government to adopt a more strategic and proactive approach to workforce planning.

For inquiries, a spokesperson from NHS Western Isles acknowledged the national shortage of consultant psychiatrists, with approximately 60% of such posts across Scotland remaining vacant.

The necessity for 24/7 consultant psychiatrist provision within key healthcare units further drives up costs, with negotiations aimed at securing the most cost-effective rates while ensuring essential service requirements are met.

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