As many as 48% of advertised consultant jobs in the UK went unfilled last year, up from 36% in 2013, new analysis has shown.
Led by the Royal College of Physicians, the 2020 census of more than 3,700 consultants showed that of those empty positions, nearly half (49%) were unfilled due to a lack of any applicants at all.
More than a third (34%) of posts were empty due to a lack of suitable candidates.
‘The fact that so many posts were unfilled because there were no applicants shows the supply of doctors falls woefully short of demand,’ Dr Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said.
‘We need a clear commitment from government to publish regular workforce projections so that we know how many staff to train to meet future demand.’
In England, the highest proportion of unsuccessful appointments were found in the East (63%) and Midlands regions (61%), while in London only 38% of appointments were successful.
However, rates were much higher overall in Wales (59%) and Northern Ireland (57%), than in England (46%).
The College warned that because higher specialty trainees were unable to complete their training during the pandemic, there will be potentially fewer newly qualified consultants to apply for posts in the coming years.
Empty posts thanks to lack of workforce planning
The increase in unfilled consultant posts is down to the lack of long term workforce planning, it said, citing the fact there is no public data on whether England is training enough healthcare workers now to meet expected future demand.
The College had previously supported an amendment to the Health and Care Bill tabled by ex-health secretary Jeremy Hunt which would see independently verified assessments of the workforce numbers published every two years.
Professor Jackie Taylor, president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow – which was involved in the census – confirmed they are calling for a similar comprehensive approach to workforce planning in Scotland.
Responding to the findings, Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said the lack of consultants will be felt ‘right across the workforce’.
He added: ‘In light of this crisis, we strongly support the amendment to the Government’s Health and Care Bill which would require the health secretary to publish regular projections on how many staff are needed in the NHS to meet future patient demand.’
Last month, the Government announced £5.9bn funding to tackle England’s care backlog which now stands at 5.7 million people.
However, critics warned this effort will be unsuccessful without tackling vacancies across the NHS.