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NHS pressures will jeopardise patient safety, doctors warn

74% of doctors surveyed raise patient safety fears

Adrian O'Dowd

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Around three quarters of doctors (74%) say they are worried about the ability of their service to deliver safe patient care in the next 12 months due to pressures on the NHS, according to a survey carried out by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP).

The RCP launched a report* today at its annual conference being held in Manchester in which it detailed various concerns raised by the 2,101 doctors who responded to its survey.

The survey asked doctors about their experiences of delivering healthcare and their confidence in being able to raise concerns about patient care.

Focusing on their experiences of care over the past 12 months, 78% of doctors said demand for their service was rising and more than half (55%) of physicians believed patient safety had deteriorated.

More than a third (37%) said the quality of care had fallen while the majority (84%) had experienced staffing shortages in their team, while 82% believed the workforce was demoralised.

In comments submitted to the survey, doctors said they were “firefighting”, “papering over the cracks”, while other comments included “I feel like I’m on the Titanic”, and “55 escalation beds in operation today with no extra medical or nursing staff. Completely unsafe.”

During her speech addressing the conference, RCP president Professor Jane Dacre was due to say: “I am sure these figures will not come as a surprise to anyone in the room.

“The physicians I know, and I include myself, are optimistic, positive, can-do people who produce work-round solutions to intransigent problems. However, they are being pushed to their limits and no longer are optimistic about the future.

“We worry that there are inherent safety risks in a hospital running at full or over capacity – from an increase in hospital acquired infections to the impact of burnout from overworked staff.”

The report acknowledges that shortages in the medical workforce are also an issue in primary care as well as in hospitals.

It says: “The UK does not train enough doctors, and hospital teams are under increasing pressure from staffing gaps. We need to ensure that overall training numbers are sufficient to deliver enough doctors across all parts of the medical workforce, from GPs to physicians.”

The survey also asked doctors if they were aware of the Freedom to Speak Up Guardian at their trust (all trusts were required to have such a person in place by October of last year) and whether they felt confident in raising issues.

Only around a fifth (21%) knew who their Freedom to Speak Up Guardian was and less than half (47%) believed that doctors in their trust were confident at speaking out.

The RCP also revealed details today of a separate survey on workforce that showed there was an underlying shortage of staff and rota gaps.

In this snapshot census undertaken in January, 52% of respondents reported a vacancy in their department and of those reporting vacancies:

  • 43% had one vacancy
  • 31% two vacancies
  • 25% three or more

RCP director of medical workforce Dr Harriet Gordon said: “Workforce vacancies have become normal for some years now and given the trainee vacancies, are likely to continue. Consultants are delivering patient care, but at the expense of other aspects of their role like management and training the next generation of doctors.”


* NHS reality check: Delivering care under pressure. Royal College of Physicians, March 2017

How would qualify the communication between primary and secondary care services? (See OnMedica News 20/04)

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