Seven medical colleges and the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine have joined with the British Medical Association (BMA) in calling on the Government and employers to take urgent action to address a ‘perfect storm’ of challenges that threaten to exacerbate existing medical consultant staffing shortages.
The warning comes alongside the publication of a new BMA paper, Consultant workforce shortages and solutions: Now and in the Future, which outlines the challenges to consultant recruitment as well as short-, medium- and long-term solutions to this trajectory.
The paper is the result of a roundtable event hosted by the BMA in July, in which members of the association’s consultants committee met with representatives from medical royal colleges to discuss the future of the consultant workforce in England.
Aimed at the Government, employers and healthcare arms-length bodies, the paper sets out how pressures in the NHS and changing attitudes in the medical profession are posing challenges to maintaining the consultant workforce.
It emphasises that, while 24% of the consultant workforce is over the age of 55, a recent BMA survey finds that six-out-of-10 consultants plan on retiring at or before the age of 60.
Among the paper’s short- to medium-term measures recommendations are addressing inequalities in pension allowances, real-terms pay erosion and the gender pay gap, while also ensuring consultants have more say in job planning and access to flexible working arrangements.
In the long-term, the key cited action towards ensuring sustainable consultant workforce growth is expanding places at medical schools, foundation programme and specialty trainee levels.
Launching the paper, BMA consultants committee chair Rob Harwood said the pressures added to the health service by the COVID-19 pandemic had further exposed and exacerbated the NHS’s long-term staffing problems.
He warned that, unless action was taken right away, the consequences for the health service would be potentially ‘catastrophic’ in the long run.