By Professor Jackie Taylor

WHILE the pandemic has brought the best out of our NHS and its staff, it has also highlighted and exacerbated the ongoing challenges that we have faced in recent years.

It is well known that even before Covid-19, NHS services in Scotland were over-stretched due to unfilled consultant posts, rising demand for services, and shortages of staff in all grades of medical and nursing staff. We were aware that many vacant consultant posts were not advertised or when they were advertised there were no suitable applicants.

There have been many reports evidencing the impact of workforce shortages on the wellbeing of the profession. This in turn has a knock on effect on retaining staff in the NHS. Even pre-Covid, more than one quarter of doctors reported being unable to cope with their workload on a weekly basis, while one in eight had taken a leave of absence due to stress.

The events of the past year have placed a huge burden on our health service and all those who work in it. I have experienced this first hand in my work as a consultant geriatrician, and I have heard it from the Fellows and Members I support through my role as President of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow.

Recently we published our college manifesto for the Holyrood elections, This is what we stand for, outlining the changes that we believe need to happen to ensure safe levels of staffing in our hospitals so that we can deliver the standards of care our patients expect and deserve.

While the pandemic continues to generate enormous challenges, the workforce has shown leadership, flexibility and professionalism, ensuring that health services across Scotland and beyond were able to adapt at a breath-taking pace to meet these challenges.

We have seen that speed of decision making, innovative thinking and breaking through bureaucracy has served us well. The same approach will be needed to create the shape of our workforce going forward. We must maintain its morale, resilience and achieve adequate staffing levels.

We have to learn from Covid-19 and once it has passed, take a long and potentially uncomfortable look at some of the reasons why our medical talent is leaving the NHS.

We need more medical students and to widen access to increase the numbers entering into the profession. We also need to improve the experience of doctors in training and once qualified, we need to value, support and retain them. And we need to encourage more consultants to take up posts within our NHS by ensuring the terms of their contracts enable sufficient time for both clinical and non-clinical work such as teaching, examining and professional development.

To be able to do this, we need to replicate the innovation which has been so apparent during the past year where solutions were found quickly and new ways of delivering service broke through layers of bureaucracy.

Professor Jackie Taylor is President of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow