Workforce planning needed to avert staffing crisis

A new General Medical Council (GMC) report has argued that UK-wide workforce planning is needed to avert an NHS staffing crisis, which is likely to be compounded by Brexit.

The GMC’s 2018 The state of medical education and practice in the UK report highlights a stark picture of unabated pressure on health services, emphasising the steps that some doctors are taking to cope with patient numbers, some of which may be piling more pressure on other parts of the health system. This includes ordering blood tests when they may not always be needed, and bypassing clinical checklists in order to get through workload.

With uncertainty with a possible Brexit ‘no deal’ growing, particularly concerning how EEA qualified doctors will be able to join the UK medical register after March next year, the research indicates that many doctors are considering career changes to step away from the heavy workload placed upon doctors in primary and secondary care.

In fact, nearly a third of 2,600 doctors surveyed are considering reducing their hours in the next three years, whilst a  fifth are planning go part time and a further fifth plan to leave the UK to work abroad.

The GMC has submitted proposals to the government’s consultation on the NHS long-term plan, suggesting that its data and processes can be used to improve the supply and retention of the medical workforce across all four countries of the UK over the next ten years.

This includes building insight into the distribution of doctors and the skills they have across the UK by contributing to a national database of which doctors have what skills, and in which locations; legislative change to give more flexibility in processes for joining the GP and specialist registers, providing a wider range of options to demonstrate the skills and experience needed to do so; and accommodating the rise in international doctors wishing to sit the two part test of skills and language needed to work in the UK by increasing capacity at our testing centre.

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. 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.”

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