MEDICAL schools in Scotland must increase their overall intakes and ensure a much greater share of places go to Scottish students, doctors' leaders have said.

A report by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties in Scotland (AMRCFS) said it was vital to stem a growing workforce crisis and limit a post-graduate brain drain.

It follows research that around 90 per cent Scottish medical graduates would stay to complete their foundation training and begin their careers as doctors in NHS Scotland, compared to around 40% of those who had come from elsewhere in the UK to study.

Currently just over half of medical school places in Scotland go to Scottish students, down from around 63% 20 years ago.

READ MORE: Medical schools to discriminate in favour of Scottish candidates 

In June, the Scottish Government announced that medical schools in Scotland would be forced to discriminate in favour of Scots by gradually replacing 100 places that would have gone to students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland with 100 Scottish or EU nationals instead.

The move, which will take place in a phased basis over the next three years, is a bid to tip the balance back in favour of homegrown medics.

However, it was a blow to universities who earn £9000-a-year in fees from rUK students.

It comes as the annual intake of medical places in Scottish universities is projected to increase by 22%, from 848 in 2015/16 to 1038 by 2020/21.

However, Professor Jackie Taylor, president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons Glasgow and co-author of the Academy's report, said the total number of places on medical school courses needed to rise even further in future to meet NHS demand for doctors.

She said more places should also be prioritised to medical students entering through widening access or graduate programmes as evidence shows they are also more likely to be retained by NHS Scotland.

READ MORE: Huge extra investment in screening is wasteful if we continue to allow poverty to grow

Professor Taylor said: "The workforce challenges facing the NHS are now the greatest current threat to the provision of quality health care in the UK.

"While the number of consultant posts in NHS Scotland has increased by about 15% in the past five years, these posts remain unfilled due to a shortage of doctors.

"We already know that almost two-thirds of consultant vacancies in Scotland have been vacant for over six months, and that around a third of advisory appointments panels for vacant consultant posts were cancelled because there was no suitable applicant.

"That's why our College has worked with the Scottish Academy to produce a plan for addressing this growing crisis. Our recommendations are a constructive attempt to address the multiple factors that are combining to create the current unsustainable situation where growing workforce shortages are in turn creating unbearable workload pressures on health care professionals in the NHS.

"We know that medical students from Scotland, and those who enter university through widening access programmes and graduate entry schemes are more likely to stay and work in Scotland after graduation.

"That's why it's not only vital that we grow the number of available places in our medical schools, but that we need to increase the proportion of these students in them. It's not only the right thing to do, it's essential if we're to build a strong long-term foundation for our NHS workforce"

"Our members are passionate about maintaining a world-class health service here in Scotland, but the serious workforce shortages that they face on a day to day basis is impacting on their own health and in turn the service that they can provide patients. Enough is enough. We look forward to working in partnership with NHS Scotland, the Scottish Government and others to implement the urgent changes that our NHS requires."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "The Scottish Government is taking a number of actions to ensure we have enough trainee doctors coming through the system to supply us with the qualified doctors we need.
“We will have increased medical school places by 190 in total by 2021 –¬ a rise of 22% from 2016 levels.
“In addition, we are widening access opportunities to study medicine in Scotland and we have commenced a new graduate entry programme, including offering ‘return of service’ bursaries for those who commit to stay and work in the NHS after graduation.

“Our Programme for Government also contains a commitment to develop a new medical school.

“We welcome the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties in Scotland report and have invited them to work with us to make further improvements in how we achieve a more sustainable medical workforce.”