NHS 'is short of 50,000 doctors' as bleak winter looms

NHS ‘is short of 50,000 doctors’ as bleak winter looms: BMA bosses fear health service will struggle to cope over coming months after slump in number of medics

  • NHS in England is short around 50,000 doctors, British Medical Association says
  • The BMA warned number had fallen behind comparable EU countries
  • It found there were 2.8 doctors per 1,000 people compared to 3.7 EU average

The NHS in England is short of around 50,000 doctors ahead of what is set to be one of the worst winters on record, the British Medical Association has said.

The BMA warned that the number had fallen behind comparable European Union countries, with 2.8 doctors per 1,000 people compared to an EU average of 3.7.

Its research at the start of the summer showed that meeting this average would require scaling up the medical workforce by an additional 31 per cent – or a further 49,162 full-time equivalent (FTE) doctors. 

The latest data showed falling primary and secondary care doctor numbers pushing the shortage up to 50,191 FTE doctors, it added. 

The NHS in England is short of around 50,000 doctors ahead of what is set to be one of the worst winters on record, the British Medical Association has said (stock image)

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chairman, said: ‘With flu season on the horizon and even fewer staff this time round, it’s a total unknown as to how well our services will cope – if they even cope at all.’

The BMA said it was already lobbying for amendments on workforce provision in the upcoming Health and Social Care Bill, which proposes a requirement for the Health Secretary to publish a report detailing workforce planning every five years.

It comes as a survey by charity Engage Britain found that one in five people have been forced to turn to private healthcare because NHS treatment was unavailable.

Dr Nagpaul said: ‘It’s frightening to see that the gap between the number of doctors in England and comparable EU nations is widening at such pace.

‘Even more worryingly, having failed to reverse this damaging trend in the decade prior to the pandemic, the Government now has a much bigger, and incredibly urgent, task ahead of it.

‘Winter is an incredibly difficult time for the health service, and we just about made it through last year with the demands of Covid-19 on top of usual pressures.

‘With flu season on the horizon and even fewer staff this time round, it’s a total unknown as to how well our services will cope – if they even cope at all.

‘And this is before we even consider the enormous backlog of care generated by the pandemic.

The BMA warned that the number had fallen behind comparable European Union countries, with 2.8 doctors per 1,000 people compared to an EU average of 3.7 (stock image)

‘Alarm bells should have sounded when we struggled to staff the Nightingale hospitals, so Government really cannot afford to put this off any longer.

‘Since then, we’ve seen hospital waiting lists in England grow to 5.61 million, high numbers of A&E patients waiting longer than four hours, and staff morale hit rock-bottom – all of which pose real and regular risks to patient care and safety.’

Dr Nagpaul said that new funding announced by the Government must not just go towards tackling the backlog but also to reduce ongoing pressures and to help retain and recruit more staff.

He added: ‘The current draft of the Health and Social Care Bill carries significant risks and fails to properly address the problems the NHS is currently facing.

‘For those still working in the NHS, who knows how long we’ve got them for.

‘Rather than actively retaining staff, Government has stood by as doctors work themselves to the point of exhaustion, with many now considering leaving the NHS, further depleting us of expert, talented colleagues.’

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