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Steep rise in NHS consultants opting to retire

The number of consultants retiring from Scotland’s NHS increased by almost 50 per cent in the last three years.


New figures show there were 133 consultants who brought their time to a close in Scotland’s hospitals in 2019/20.


However, by last year that number rose to 198, prompting more concerns about staffing levels across the country’s health service.


The figures were revealed following a Freedom of Information request by Scotland in Union, the country's largest pro-UK campaign group.


The retirements in 2022/23 included 62 in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 32 in the Lothians, and 27 for NHS Grampian.


Last year’s total was also a slight increase on 2021/22, up from 195.


A recent study by Dundee University found nearly half of all senior doctors over the age of 50 intend to retire early.


And last month, doctors urged the Scottish Government to “ramp up” efforts to fill consultancy vacancies.


That followed reports that of 733 attempts to hire consultants for a vacant post in Scotland’s NHS, 306 were cancelled due to a lack of applicants or no suitable candidates being found.


Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said:


“Every consultant retirement is a blow to Scotland’s NHS – it’s a loss of vital experience and creates a gap which then needs to be filled.


“The fact such events have increased by almost 50 per cent in the last three years is of huge concern and places even more strain on a health service which is already under immense pressure.


“Of course, many of these will be hard-working professionals who reached the age of retirement and are now having a well-deserved rest.


“But there is also suspicion that the working environment has become so challenging that it’s simply not worth their while to stay on longer.


“These figures support the findings of a report earlier this year which showed nearly half of senior doctors over the age of 50 intend to retire early in Scotland.


“Either way, the SNP government has been in sole charge of the NHS in Scotland for more than 16 years, and has to take full responsibility for staffing.


“It cannot allow a situation to develop where, because of a lack of forward planning, retiring consultants aren’t replaced and hard-working staff and patients are left to suffer.


“If SNP politicians were more focused on the day job instead of being distracted by their obsession with breaking up our country, they could have avoided this significant challenge to our NHS.”


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The statistics were obtained by Scotland in Union through Freedom of Information requests to health boards across the country. The showed the following number of consultants who retired in the past four years:

  • 2019/20 – 133

  • 2020/21 – 156

  • 2021/22 – 195

  • 2022/23 – 198

The following number of consultants retired last year, broken down by health board:

  • Ayrshire and Arran – 13

  • Borders – 4

  • Dumfries and Galloway – 11

  • Fife – 5

  • Forth Valley – 7

  • Grampian – 27

  • Greater Glasgow and Clyde – 62

  • Highland – 11

  • Lanarkshire – 12

  • Lothian – 32

  • Orkney – 0

  • Shetland – 1

  • Tayside – 13

  • Western Isles – 0

  • Total - 198

Last month it was reported that doctors wanted the Scottish Government to “ramp up” attempts to hire more consultants: See here.

A report by Dundee University earlier this year found nearly half of senior doctors over 50 and above intended to retire early: See here.



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