RETIRED medics are an "untapped resource" who should be fast-tracked back to the frontline to relieve pressure on the NHS over winter, one of Scotland's leading clinicians has said.

Professor Jackie Taylor, the president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons Glasgow, said that too many recently retired doctors who had tried to return at the beginning of the pandemic had been put off because the process was "so complex" or because they were offered unsuitable posts - or no work at all.

Speaking as the College hosts its two-day 'Time to Heal' conference, starting today, on how to help NHS staff recover from the pandemic, Prof Taylor said it was also vital that doctors' wellbeing and work-life balance is prioritised despite the pressure to clear waiting list backlogs.

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She said: "We cast aside the wellbeing of our clinicians at our peril because let's remember we have huge workforce challenges. The whole concept of wellbeing of staff and workforce shortages are inextricably linked.

"Sadly when people become exhausted, when they become ill, when they become demoralised, they think about leaving healthcare, and we simply cannot afford to lose this precious resource.

"I think clinicians are anxious about their health and wellbeing and they're concerned that the increased focus there has been on that as a key issue over the past year and a half may be lost in this desperate need, not just to work on backlogs, but the need to provide services at the current level.

"The point we are making very passionately is that we can't afford to lose sight of this because both now and moving forwards, we need to encourage people into healthcare, we need to keep the people we have in healthcare, and actually we probably need to encourage some people who have retired to come back."

Unveiling Scotland's £300 million winter plan for the NHS and social care yesterday, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said the Scottish Government was keen to bolster the workforce by welcoming back recently retired staff.

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However, Prof Taylor said she had heard of frustration from College members and fellows who had responded to appeals to return to the workforce as Covid cases soared in the UK at the start of 2020, only to have their offers of help squandered.

A recent survey of more than 200 retired surgeons by the Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh found that just 15 per cent were asked to return to the NHS, despite nearly three quarters saying they would have been happy to cover shifts twice a week.

Its president Professor Michael Griffin urged the NHS to "think outside the box" and "come up with a plan to efficiently reintegrate these individuals", particularly to help speed up diagnostics.

Prof Taylor, a consultant geriatrician, said: "I do believe we have an untapped resource in clinicians who were invited to return onto the emergency GMC register at the very beginning of the pandemic.

"In the UK over 25,000 clinicians returned to the emergency registers and in Scotland I think it was about 2,500, [but] only a very small proportion who returned onto that register were actually deployed in any way, shape or form.

"People are disengaged with the process because it was so complex and at the end of the day they were either offered something inappropriate or nothing at all.

"My belief, and anecdotally from colleagues and members of our College who have said this, if approached again - if there was a system that worked - I think people are prepared to come back. So I do think there is an urgent piece of work that needs to be done there."

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Prof Taylor added that international recruitment is "much more difficult".

She added: "I do believe this is about retaining the people we've got as much as we can - hence that circular argument about wellbeing and valuing and doing everything we can to be flexible and help them stay - and trying to pull people back into healthcare over the winter."

In addition, Prof Taylor said there should be "clear messaging from the Scottish Government that this is going to be very challenging winter for healthcare", and better signposting to the public about where to seek help for non-urgent or emergency ailments. 

"I think we really need a campaign to help people in our communities to understand what other services are available and when to access them.

"I don't think we've really done that effectively enough."