NHS workforce crisis as shortage of trainees and medical students grows

The NHS faces a 'chronic shortage of doctors' because three quarters of medical specialties had unfilled training posts in 2016 and medical school applications fell for the third year running, the BMA has warned.

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul (Photo: JH Lancy)
BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul (Photo: JH Lancy)

Data obtained by the union showed a 13% fall in applications to medical schools since 2013.

Union leaders said government attempts to widen participation appeared to be slowing, with the GMC reporting that fewer women are studying and training in medicine and numbers of BME trainees are in decline.

The BMA’s data analysis revealed that applications to the foundation programme are also falling, with 2016 seeing the lowest numbers since 2013. Applications to specialty training schemes are also in decline with fewer trainees moving straight into speciality training.

Medical training

Across all specialties, 88% of training posts for 2016 were filled, lower than the fill rate for 2013, 2014 or 2015.

Fill rates for GP training places have increased, however, with 160 more appointments in 2017 than the previous year. The BMA warned, however, that with increasing retirements and stagnating full-time GP numbers it was difficult to see how the government’s target to recruit an extra 5,000 GPs by 2020 could realistically be achieved.

The union called for greater flexibility for trainees and doctors to encourage more people into the profession, with more part-time working and more less-than-full-time training.

The union called for a widening of the intake of medical schools, and said more should be done to address geographic variation in recruitment, with more investment.

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘It is deeply concerning that we are seeing a drop off at each stage of doctors’ training, we have to ask why some, who have spent many years training to become a doctor, are deciding not to continue in the profession.

NHS workload

‘We know that many doctors are struggling with unsustainable workloads in an NHS that is understaffed and chronically underfunded. This has a huge impact on their morale and wellbeing, often leading to stress and burnout. Brexit also poses a new risk, with almost half of EU doctors considering leaving the NHS following the referendum result.

‘With the NHS at breaking point, if the government doesn’t get to grips with this workforce crisis, the NHS will struggle to attract and retain highly trained staff, and patient care will suffer as a result. Ignoring this staffing crisis creates to a vicious circle, compound existing problems, adding to pressure on existing staff making them more likely to leave.’

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