YOUNG medics who have been trained in Scotland are flocking to the sunkissed cities of Australia because of the fair climate – not just better pay, an NHS chief has claimed.

It came as former health secretary Alex Neil told MSPs that an Australian recruitment agency had recently hired 80 Scottish GPs and said more needed to be done to stem a brain drain of talent overseas.

Read more: NHS workforce plan must include count of how many Scottish-trained doctors are heading overseas

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Speaking during a meeting of Holyrood's Public Audit Committee, Mr Neil said: "There is clearly an element, particularly with younger GPs, of going abroad, particularly to Australia. I was talking to somebody yesterday who'd been talking to a recruitment agency who had interviewed 200 GPs in Scotland and 80 of them intend to emigrate to Australia. I think this is a major leakage of skills from general practice in Scotland.

"Work-life balance and a whole range of things come into this, but clearly I think we should be doing something to try and keep these GPs in Scotland."

It comes as figures show that 25 trainee GP posts in Scotland are still unfilled for this year's intake, at a time when practices are folding because they cannot replace family doctors who leave or retire.

At the same time, latest figures show that the average salary for independent contractor GPs in Scotland has fallen by 2.5 per cent, to £89,500, but rose by one per cent in England to £104,900 last year. In Australia, GPs earn the equivalent of £102,000 to £234,000 a year, depending on overtime.

Shirley Rogers, director of Health Workforce for NHS Scotland, who was giving evidence to the Public Audit committee, said some young doctors were simply lured overseas by a better lifestyle and weather.

She said: "I was in a conversation with a young junior doctor myself a couple of weeks ago who showed me a photograph of an unnamed Scottish hospital in the rain and the rather attractive sunshine of the Melbourne A&E department and his response to me was 'whilst I'm young I want to go and do some surfing as well - can you fix the weather?'.

"So we need to recognise that we work in an international marketplace and that our responsibility is to make the roles that we have on offer in NHS Scotland as attractive as we can. For the vast majority of clinicians [salary] is a part of it, but not the whole part.

"They want good shift patterns. They want to have high quality work."

Ms Rogers added that many doctors who work overseas return to Scotland later.

Paul Gray, chief executive of NHS Scotland, said there was "some evidence" that salary was a factor behind the recruitment and retention difficulties in general practice, but insisted that "pressure of workload" was a bigger factor.

He added: "In some areas in general practice it is very difficult to recruit, close to impossible. I accept that as a fact. I am not pretending it doesn't exist."

Dr Peter Bennie, Chair of BMA Scotland said: "While many doctors who spend time working abroad do so on a temporary basis to broaden their skills and experience, there are significant number of doctors who move overseas permanently, which is a clear demonstration of why we need to make working in Scotland a more attractive option for doctors of all grades.

"With most doctors in Scotland facing increasing workload pressures, it is unsurprising that the option of moving to countries that are able to offer a better work-life balance can be an attractive one. Ensuring that Scotland is able to compete internationally when it comes to attracting doctors is vital if the recruitment and retention problems in Scotland's NHS are to be addressed.”