One in five UK doctors say understaffing has affected patient safety


The annual census of UK consultants and higher speciality trainees—Focus on Physicians 2017–18—indicates that more than half of all consultants and two thirds of trainees reported frequent gaps in trainees’ rotas, with one in five respondents saying these are causing significant problems for patient safety in hospitals.

The report, which has been jointly published by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, and the Royal College of Physicians of London, also shows:

  • Almost half of advertised consultant posts remain unfilled because of a lack of suitable applicants
  • Consultants and trainees are working around 10% more than their contracted hours. This equates to trainees working an extra six weeks and consultants an extra month unpaid a year
  • 33% of the current consultant workforce are predicted to reach their intended retirement age in the next decade. Medical student places need doubling now to fill this and the gap left generally by doctors leaving the profession
  • Satisfaction among consultants and trainees with working in general internal medicine remains significantly lower than with specialty-working.

Commenting on the findings of the census David Galloway, president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, says: “I am glad that the three Royal Colleges have once again joined together to produce this important piece of work. It is vital that everyone involved in the NHS now reflects on these findings and takes all the action necessary to replicate best practice and address the challenges that this document has highlighted. What is of particular concern is the finding that almost one in five consultants across the UK reported that rota gaps cause significant problems for patient safety in their hospital. This is an unsustainable situation which must be addressed as a matter of urgency.”

He adds that while the colleges welcome the short-term actions that UK governments (England & Wales and Scotland) are taking, such as the lifting of the cap on tier 2 visas for NHS staff, they believe “consistent and sustained action” is needed if the situation is to be addressed in the longer term. “Government, patients and the medical profession must work hand in hand if we’re to deliver the best possible NHS for all,” Galloway comments.

Professor Derek Bell, president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, states, “As one of the three Royal Colleges that commissioned this report, we believe that Focus on Physicians provides an important snapshot of the state of play within the medical profession. We welcome, in particular, that 88% of consultants enjoy working in their chosen speciality. This indicates a high level of job satisfaction for consultant specialists.

“Our report also highlights some challenges which must be tackled head on, and we support any actions which allow doctors time to care, time to train and time to research. We believe that these conditions are essential for job satisfaction, and ultimately for enhancing the care that our patients receive.”


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