Health Policy

05.12.18

Doctors could quit NHS in ‘unprecedented numbers’ as staff pressures puts patient safety at risk

Doctors driven to the “brink of breaking point” and forced into adopting “risky and unsustainable compromises” to maintain care are putting patient safety at risk, the GMC has warned.

The medical regulator found that more than half of UK doctors are considering quitting the NHS or cutting their hours, and warned there was a high risk of doctors leaving “in unprecedented numbers.”

The GMC polled 2,600 doctors and found that 56% were examining other career options, and a quarter had already cut their hours or gone part-time.

The research stated that, as patient numbers continued to rise and staff were forced to make “risky compromises,” ministers were running out of time to act and implement UK-wide workforce planning to fix the fragmented approach to recruitment and retention of doctors.

Doctors told the watchdog that time pressures meant they were increasingly taking short cuts in their jobs, with one in three reporting that they saw clinical protocols bypassed at least every week.

Sir Terence Stephenson, chair of the GMC, said: “Doctors are telling us clearly that the strain that the system is under is having a direct effect on them, and on their plans to continue working in that system.”

The GMC said it was particularly concerned that 21% of 45-54-year-olds and two-thirds of 55-64-year olds intend to take early retirement by 2021, and said the figures come against a backdrop of uncertainty around Brexit, which could hit the 9% of UK licensed doctors who are EEA qualified.

The ‘State of Medical Education and Practice in the UK’ report submitted a number of proposals to help mitigate the building NHS workforce crisis, including legislative change to give more flexibility for those joining the GP and specialist registers.

The GMC recommended building insight into the distribution of doctors through a national database of doctors, their skills and locations, as well as accommodating for the rise in international doctors wishing to sit the tests.

Stephenson added: “We’ve heard from doctors who are referring patients on to other parts of the system because they don’t have the time to deal with their issues, understandably moving the pressure on to other parts of the service.”

“There are different challenges in each of the four countries of the UK, but the NHS is at a critical juncture; without a long-term, UK-wide plan to ensure it has a workforce with the right skills in the right places and without the right support, doctors will come under even greater strain.”

Image credit - sturti

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