EMERGENCY doctors are facing "burnout and exhaustion" as departments struggle with staff shortages, according to a new survey.

The Royal College of Emergency has warned of shortages of key senior decision-makers and a workforce that is "below adequate staffing levels to deliver the best and most effective care to patients" following a census of frontline staff in units across Scotland.

The 64-question survey was sent to emergency department (ED) clinical leads, with responses obtained from 24 EDs, including all 20 consultant-led EDs, one Minor Injury Unit, and three Remote and Rural Hospitals.

The feedback found senior clinicians reporting that they needed a 25 per cent increase in consultants and a 21% increase in junior doctor numbers to run their departments effectively.

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They also reported shortages of specialist trainees, advanced nurse practitioners and emergency nurse nurse practitioners.

RCEM said achieving the staffing levels desired by 2026 would require an additional 113 consultants, 180 extra junior doctors, and more than a 100 other medical and nursing professionals.

The College also found that, as of October 2020, trainee doctors were working an average of 48 night-shifts per year, 33 consultants and 12 career-grade doctors were planning on retiring within the next six years, and the equivalent of one in every 6,444 full-time consultant posts was empty - compared to the RCEM's recommended maximum of one per 4000.

It comes amid concerns that A&E departments across Scotland and the rest of the UK have now returned to pre-pandemic attendance levels, but are also seeing many more patients with complex health problems than would normally be expected during the summer months.

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This is putting pressure on beds as A&E departments seek to admit seriously ill patients with non-Covid illnesses at a time of rising Covid hospital admissions and, in particular, a drive to ramp up elective surgeries amid spiralling waiting lists for treatment.

Dr John Thomson, the RCEM's vice president in Scotland and an emergency medicine consultant in Aberdeen, said shortages of "senior decision-making staff groups" risked creating emergency departments which were "over-depending on junior staff".

He added: "The census shows that we need considerable expansion of funded consultant and senior decision-maker posts in order to prioritise patient safety and quality of care.

“We managed to survive the first two waves of pandemic with an insufficient workforce, but now these existing staff are facing burnout and exhaustion – with some clinicians reporting they are planning on retiring early. This census clearly shows that we must act and address these problems without delay.”

Scottish Labour's health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: "Scotland's NHS staff were heroes working in impossible conditions before the pandemic even struck.

"Across the NHS - especially in Emergency Medicine - we must see serious attention paid to workforce planning and training, making sure we are recruiting and supporting the frontline staff necessary to save lives tomorrow.

"But even more urgently than that we need to see a plan to tackle workforce burnout and support those staff who have paid the price for their heroic efforts in the fight against Covid with their own mental and physical health."

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Scottish Conservative health spokesman, Dr Sandesh Gulhane, said: “Over stretching staff like this leads to mistakes as well as increased stress which results in them leaving their jobs.

“The SNP Government need to address this chronic shortage with a decisive plan on recruitment and retention, improved work-life balance, and a concentrated effort on improving the mental and physical wellbeing of staff."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Staffing levels in Scotland’s NHS have reached a record high.

“Since 2006 the number of consultants employed by NHS Scotland has increased by more than 59%, and the Emergency Medicine Consultant workforce has more than tripled 75.8 WTE to 259.9 WTE.

“Meanwhile 2021 has so far been the most successful year of any of the last five years for the recruitment of trainee doctors. Particular attention is being paid to the medical specialties that form the frontline of Covid.

“The Health Secretary has committed to produce a detailed NHS Recovery Plan within the first 100 days of the new administration. This will set out in detail how we intend to meet our ambition of reducing waiting times.”