More doctors entered GP training and other shortage-hit specialties this year, but the numbers aren’t there yet, and support must be stepped up to continue this trend, a new report* published by professional regulator, the General Medical Council (GMC), has found.
What’s more, UK healthcare is more reliant than ever on overseas doctors, with more non-UK graduates joining the medical register than British-trained doctors in 2019, the report shows.
And retention of all doctors continues to be a challenge, says the report. Workload pressures and workplace cultures that don’t always offer enough support are among the factors that cause significant numbers of doctors to leave the medical register.
Charlie Massey, GMC chief executive, said: “Doctors are in short supply and so demand is high worldwide. Overseas doctors have long played crucial roles in UK health services. But now our workforce is more diverse than ever, at a time when pressures on our health services make retaining doctors a huge challenge.”
He continued: “It is vital that the diversity we see across our hospitals and surgeries is embraced by those in leadership roles. Medicine is a highly mobile profession, and the UK has traditionally done well attracting doctors from abroad. But doctors must get the support they need if they are likely to stay here long-term. In the past that has not always been the case.”
He added: “Compassionate leadership and improved workplace cultures can contribute to improved retention of doctors. That also helps doctors’ wellbeing, which in turn benefits patients. It will help make sure we have the workforce we need now and in the years ahead.”
The GMC’s warning follows its publication, earlier this year, of the Fair to refer? report. That highlighted lack of support, poor feedback by managers and poor inductions as reasons for disproportionate referrals of black, Asian and minority ethnic doctors to the regulator for fitness to practise concerns.
This latest report is the first time the GMC has published a report specifically focused on workforce issues and based on its own data.
It reveals that the number of doctors licensed to practice medicine in the UK rose above a quarter of a million for the first time in 2019. But increasing numbers of doctors are choosing to reduce the hours they work in response to workload pressures and changing career expectations.
Encouragingly, there are signs of an increase in those entering training programmes to become GPs and some shortage-hit specialties, as well as a sharp rise in overseas doctors.
The numbers entering GP training programmes rose by 6% in the past year, a much sharper increase than in recent years. The numbers starting psychiatry training also rose by 2%, following years of stagnation and decline.
Increases in radiology training (7%) and training for emergency medicine (4%) were also seen, while the number of non-UK or EEA doctors joining the medical register each year doubled between 2017 and 2019.
But Charlie Massey cautioned: “The supply of doctors, particularly in hard-to-fill roles, must not be taken for granted. Meeting future patient demand requires more expert generalists as well as specialists, and greater flexibility in training and job design.
“Increasing new doctors onto the register, reducing the loss of working hours due to pressures and retaining as many doctors as possible are all critical challenges.”
British Medical Association council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul commented: “While it is encouraging that more doctors are entering training, the numbers are still nowhere near enough to meet patient need.
“As highlighted in the report, GPs and hospital doctors continue to face immense pressures on a day-to-day basis due to demand exceeding capacity and is likely to worsen as a result of other factors such as punitive pension taxation rules, which means doctors are being forced to leave the profession early or cut their hours.
“The government must address these constraints in order to improve both recruitment and retention,” he insisted.
*The state of medical education and practice in the UK: The workforce report. A report prepared by the General Medical Council, Ocotber 2019.