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


The NHS in England is short of around 50,000 doctors, ahead of what will be one of the worst winters ever, according to the British Medical Association.

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

The survey at the beginning of the summer found that to reach this average, the medical workforce would need to be expanded by 31 percent, or an additional 49,162 full-time equivalent (FTE) physicians.

The latest data shows that the number of doctors in primary and secondary care is falling, pushing the deficit to 50,191 FTE doctors, it added.

Statistics released today by the Office for National Statistics show that there are 167,000 job openings in the UK in health and social care.

The staff shortage comes after a two-year battle with the coronavirus pandemic.

England’s NHS is short of around 50,000 doctors for what will be one of its worst winters ever, the British Medical Association has said (stock image)

The reason for the drop in the number of doctors is unclear, although experts have suggested several reasons.

There were 13,000 mental health absences in the NHS in June, while a survey by the British Medical Association in May found that just over a fifth of doctors working in the health service said they could leave within a year .

It also found that 21% of doctors were more likely to work in another country, 18% more likely to leave the profession completely, and 26% more likely to take a career break due to the pandemic.

Before Covid, around 4 per cent of doctors left the NHS each year – indicating a massive exodus amid the pandemic.

Many doctors who would now supposedly retire were those who postponed retirement to deal with the pandemic, a GP said.

dr. Katherine Henderson, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said medics who had returned to NHS service have no reason to stay.

She said: ‘The staff will do what it takes – the problem is what it does to them to do what it takes. People worry about the moral damage and the complete lack of vision about what is happening.

“People who are about to retire and keep a lot of things together will be on the run unless it’s clear to them that the things they’ve been harping about for years are being addressed.

“They’re leaving earlier than they should. They are people with a lot of experience who leave earlier than they should.’

The number of NHS doctors taking early retirement in England and Wales has more than tripled in the past 13 years, with 1,358 doctors taking early retirement this year, compared to just 401 in 2008.

Doctors and NHS staff have also complained about abuse during the pandemic, amid the rise of anti-vaxxers and lockdown skeptics.

The shortage of doctors seems to be especially acute in deprived areas.

dr. Dean Eggitt, a GP in Doncaster, warned: ‘It is not surprising that GPs choose to work in areas in the UK where the burden of disease is lower and the work easier. Responsibility for this rests with those at the Ministry of Health and Social Care who have failed to deliver on the promise of more GPs.

“It is their responsibility to view this as a humanitarian disaster and a national emergency.”

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

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

Professor Martin Marshall, president of the Royal College of GPs, argued that a decade of underinvestment meant there simply weren’t enough GPs to care for people who needed them.

dr. Chaand Nagpaul, Chairman of the BMA Board, said: “With the flu season approaching and this time even less staff, it is totally unknown how well our services can handle it – whether they can handle it at all.”

The BMA said it was already lobbying for staffing changes in the forthcoming Health and Social Care Act, which proposes that the health secretary publish a report detailing staffing schedules every five years.

A study by the charity Engage Britain shows that one in five people have been forced to turn to private health care because NHS treatment was not available.

dr. Nagpaul said: ‘It is frightening to see the gap between the number of doctors in England and comparable EU countries widening at such a rate.

Even more alarmingly, the government, having failed to reverse this damaging trend in the decade leading up to the pandemic, now has a much larger and incredibly urgent task ahead of it.

“Winter is an incredibly difficult time for the health service, and we have nearly made it through the past year with the demands of Covid-19 on top of the usual pressure.

“With the flu season approaching and even less staff this time around, it’s totally unknown how well our services can handle it – whether they can handle it yet.

‘And that’s not even talking about the enormous backlog in care that has arisen as a result of the pandemic.

“Alarm bells should have ringed as we struggled to staff Nightingale hospitals, so the government really can’t afford to delay this any longer.

“Since then we have seen hospital waiting lists in England grow to 5.61 million, high numbers of ED patients waiting longer than four hours, and staff morale has plummeted – all of which pose real and regular risks to patient care and safety .’

dr. Nagpaul said the new funding announced by the government should not only be used to clear the backlog, but also to ease ongoing pressure and to retain and recruit more staff.

He added: ‘The current draft Health and Social Care Act poses significant risks and fails to properly address the problems currently facing the NHS.

‘For those still working in the NHS, who knows how long we’ll have them.

“Instead of actively retaining staff, the government has watched as doctors push themselves to the point of exhaustion, with many now considering leaving the NHS, giving us even more knowledgeable, talented colleagues.”

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