latest health care news

08.12.16

Calls for training investment as almost half of consultant posts unfilled

Nearly half of consultant posts are unfilled as the profession struggles to cope with a shortfall in staff and increasing rates of retirement, the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) annual census has found.

The report said that 44% of advertised consultant posts were not filled in 2015-16, and there was a 10% reduction in successful appointments and a 6% reduction in posts advertised.

Nearly 30% of consultants were aware of one or more posts in their department that had gone unfilled for more than six months, and anecdotal evidence suggested that hospitals were waiting for trainees to be ready to fill posts after repeatedly advertising and failing to fill them.

The specialties with the highest rates of unfilled posts were geriatric medicine, acute care and gastroenterology. The RCP said this suggested a need for more generalist roles treating acutely ill patients.

The report’s authors argued that the recruitment crisis could get worse without increased funding from the government, as 24% of the current workforce will turn 65 in the next 10 years.

Many consultants told the RCP they were planning to retire by the age of 62, with the most common reasons for doing so described as ‘pressure of work’ and ‘dissatisfaction with the NHS’.

Dr Harriet Gordon, director of the RCP’s medical workforce unit, said: “At a time when trusts are having difficulty appointing consultant posts due to a lack of trained applicants, we need consultants to consider working for a longer time rather than retiring early.

“It is clear from these findings that this situation will only get worse unless the government invests in training and expands and supports our hospitals in recruiting more doctors in the years to come.”

At this year’s Conservative Party Conference, health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced plans to create an extra 1,500 medical student places a year. However, Professor Terence Stephenson, chair of the General Medical Council, said this week that the places should be introduced on top of, not instead of, the shortfall in doctors predicted if Brexit leads to lower immigration numbers, and should not lead to a shortfall in generalists.

Today’s RCP report also identified concerns around rota gaps, with over half of consultants revealing they occurred often and over a quarter saying they caused concerns for patient safety.

But despite the increasing pressures, the report found levels of professional satisfaction remained high, with 77% of consultants and 78% of higher specialty trainees saying they enjoyed their jobs ‘always’ or ‘often’.

It also predicted that the consultant workforce will become less male-dominated, with women making up 34% of current consultants but 53% of trainees.

However, in September, the RCP released a document warning that the NHS is “at the point of no return” because of funding and staff shortages on top of increased demand.

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