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England nearly 50,000 doctors short to manage current care needs

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By Jess Hacker
13 July 2021

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England is short of the 49,162 FTE doctors needed to meet the country’s current healthcare challenges, new analysis has shown.

According to new research published by the BMA (12 July), England has 2.8 doctors per 1,000 people across general practice and hospitals, compared to 3.7 in comparable EU countries.

It found that no single area in England meets the 3.7 figure, with the Association estimating it would take 25 years for the NHS to match the number of practising and training doctors that the EU averages today.

The BMA added that this shortfall impacts patient care and safety, while also placing staff – who are already having to undertake ‘extra, often unpaid work’ to cover the shortage – under immense pressure.

These findings come days after the latest NHS performance statistics showed that the waiting list for NHS treatment has reached 5.3 million people.

Meanwhile, as many as three-quarters of trust leaders are worried that their plans to reduce this number will be disrupted during the winter service surges.

Directing recruitment

The Association called for the new Health and Care Bill – which has already been criticised for introducing wholesale reforms despite the care backlog – should outline a duty for the Health Secretary to publish regular workforce assessments to direct recruitment needs.

It also said that investment was needed for training and retention initiatives, including removing ‘punitive’ pension taxation rules to allow older doctors to work more flexibly.

Dr Latifa Patel, acting chair of the BMA representative body and chief officer workforce lead, said that it is ‘unforgiveable that [the] Government has allowed the NHS workforce crisis to get to this point’.

Without intervention, the crisis will ‘deepen’ leaving patients without care, she said, adding that previous attempts to increase staffing had ‘failed to bridge the gap’.

‘In primary care alone, the overall qualified GP workforce has barely grown since 2015, with the number of GP partners falling by the equivalent of more than 900 full-time doctors in the most recent 12-month period,’ she said.

‘This is despite Government promises to increase the GP workforce by 6,000 by 2024 – this will likely only translate into about 3,400 FTE GPs.’ 

Recent data from NHS Digital, published 6 May, revealed that only 111 fully-qualified FTE GPs joined the health service in England between March 2020 and March 2021: an increase of just 0.4% to a total of 28,096.

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