Anaesthetist workforce crisis – 1.4 million operations & procedures missed a year due to growing NHS staff shortages

NHS patients are missing around 1.4 million operations and procedures every year due to a large and worsening shortage of anaesthetists, according to new data from the Royal College of Anaesthetists (RCoA).

RCoA estimates there is a anaesthetist workforce gap of 1,900 (14%), which could spike to 11,000 by 2040. In its manifesto, RCoA warns that, without investment in training for anaesthetists, the situation will only worsen.

“The shortage of anaesthetists has reached crisis levels and is preventing patients from getting the operations they so desperately need,” said Dr Fiona Donald, RCoA’s president.

“During the election campaign I’m sure we’ll see all parties pledge to reduce NHS waiting lists but unless their policies include plans for more anaesthetists they will have limited impact.”

RCoA is calling on political parties to develop and fund a plan for medical specialty training that includes more training places for anaesthetists.

The royal college highlights that demand for training places is outstripping supply, with figures showing 2,600 doctors are applying for 550 core anaesthetist training places and 650 doctors for 400 higher training places.

RCoA also calls on the government to improve the working lives of doctors to improve retention, specifically emphasising that the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan pledges are prioritised and funded.

This is in addition to improving onsite facilities and contract flexibility, as well as ensuring SAS doctors are treated fairly. RCoA also says that political parties should commit to agreeing a fair pay deal for doctors of all grades and to maintain the 2023 reforms to pension taxation.

Investment into a £100m NHS Efficiencies Transformation Fund to cut waiting lists and improve outcomes is also included. RCoA says that turning waiting lists into preparation lists, enhanced recovery programmes and earlier discharge planning have been shown to reduce waiting lists and improve patient outcomes.

This could help trusts and health boards save some of the estimated £400m annual loss deriving from surgical procedures that are cancelled on the day – mainly due to underlying health conditions.

Image credit: iStock

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