THE president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh has called for more clarity on safe staffing legislation for NHS boards and warned that doctors cannot be “legislated into existence”.

Professor Derek Bell warned that in its current form the Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Bill fails to set out what factors must be considered when deciding if Scotland’s hospitals are “appropriately” staffed. He is calling for some aspects of the bill to be strengthened.

“The medical workforce faces a number of challenges, and although the college welcomes the introduction of this bill, legislation alone will not solve the current shortage of medical trainees and consultants,” he said.

“The Scottish Parliament cannot legislate doctors into existence.

“We acknowledge that tackling this shortage involves a wide range of stakeholders and a variety of issues, and we have for example urged the UK Government to allow increased overseas recruitment in a structured way to support recruitment and training.”

Professor Bell has offered the Scottish Government his organisation’s expertise and support to help improve the proposed legislation.

“The college remains committed to working with the Scottish Government and healthcare partners throughout the legislative process, to ensure that Safe Staffing Bill is workable and improves outcomes in the Scottish NHS,” he added.

“It’s vital that we have safe and sustainable staffing levels within hospital settings, to ensure that appropriate care is provided for patients – and we are keen to be part of this conversation.”

Care services, on the other hand, have been given clear guidance under the bill and boards must consider the size of the care service, the care services’ aims and objectives, and the numbers and needs of service users.

It is this clarity which is missing from the Scottish Government’s plans for health boards, according to Professor Bell.

The Royal College of Physicians president also said that unless the Scottish Government urgently resolves the many medical rota gaps at trainee and consultant level and address trainee turnover rates, safe staffing levels will remain a dream rather than a reality.

He underlined that the medical workforce gap is an issue that affects not just Scotland but all four nations of the UK.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman has the opportunity to provide further clarity when she gives evidence at the Scottish Parliament later today.