As part of its manifesto for the 2021 Scottish Parliament election, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (“the College”) is calling on political parties to support the creation of an independent working group, which would assess the short, medium and long-term impact of COVID-19 on the medical workforce.

The working group’s remit must include the health and wellbeing of Scotland’s physicians. This is vital, because physicians have been under severe pressure due to increased demand from COVID-19 admissions to hospital. The number of people in hospital with confirmed COVID-19 peaked at 2053 on 22 January 2021, according to data from the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe).

The College is concerned that this additional pressure could result in a lasting legacy of physicians abandoning the profession, by retiring early or by quitting medical training. This would be deeply damaging to the Scottish NHS’ post-COVID recovery, and to the future of patient care.

The scale of the problem was highlighted before the pandemic, when the annual Consultants’ Census revealed that 43% of Scottish consultants will reach 60 in the next 10 years, which is worryingly close to the average intended retirement age of 61.7.

And the British Medical Association (BMA) Scotland recently said vacancies for consultants may now be higher than 15%.

The College is also concerned that junior doctors, who were deployed to front line care during the pandemic, have lost out on valuable time to train. The next Scottish Government must ensure resources, time and protection to train and catch up for junior doctors.

Working group members, who must be experts in public service planning, should also examine whether physicians have the support and resources they need to continue delivering quality care outcomes for patients in Scotland.

Other policies in the College’s manifesto include:

  • An external invited review to learn the lessons from Scotland’s pandemic response
  • Action to support long-COVID patients
  • Bold, cross-party and cross-discipline action on drug-related deaths including decriminalisation and safe consumption facilities
  • Prioritising the restriction of price promotions on food and drink high in fat, salt and sugar
  • A review of the minimum unit price (MUP) of alcohol linked to affordability, and uprating it where this will optimise MUP’s benefits.

Commenting on the manifesto, acting president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, Professor Angela Thomas said:

This is a critical time for the NHS, for our medical workforce and for the health of the nation. Our manifesto calls for action on a range of policy areas including health service recovery and re-design, workforce planning and training, public health and wellbeing, and health and social care integration.

Policy-makers should be planning now to ensure that the NHS in Scotland is ready for the challenge of post-COVID recovery. While I am confident that there is a lot of good work going on in that regard, an independent, representative working group would be the most constructive way to assess the short, medium and long-term impact of COVID-19 on the medical workforce.  

We think an independent working group is required, because of the pressures healthcare workers are under. The group must examine the serious impact of the pandemic on the health and wellbeing of the medical workforce.

We would call on all political parties to consider including this policy in their election manifestos, and to engage with clinicians about how the Scottish Parliament can help healthcare workers get the support and resources they need, to train, to research, to learn and to continue delivering quality care outcomes for people across Scotland.


Our election health priorities can be read below.