SHORTAGES of trainee doctors are making workforce planning “almost impossible”.
That was one of the conclusions of the latest census of consultants by the Royal College of Physicians.
It found high numbers of vacant posts in acute medicine and geriatric medicine but not enough specialty trainees to fill them, especially outside London. Around half of the consultant appointments advertised in these specialties were either cancelled or remained unfilled.
The RCP said the reasons for the shortages were “complex” but include changing demands on the health service and the desire of many trainees to stay local to where they trained.
The report went on: “The shortage of consultant physicians in a particular area is not due to a lack of attempts by hospitals to recruit. Posts are being advertised throughout the UK but many specialties and areas of the country are unable to fill them.”
Specialties such as renal medicine and rehabilitation medicine were able to recruit almost all of their advertised posts, the report said, while other specialties struggled.
Trainee shortages meant some posts were only advertised once eligible candidates were available to apply. For other specialties, an oversupply of trainees meant almost all advertised posts were filled. This variation made accurate workforce planning across the specialties “almost impossible”.
The census, which has been running for more than 20 years, was sent out to all UK consultants as well as trainee doctors. Figures showed there were 12,221 consultants working in the UK at that point – a rise of 3.5 per cent on the previous year. Responses were returned by just over 5,600 (48 per cent).
It asks questions on a range of issues such as consultant numbers, appointment of consultants, time worked/contracted, appraisal and study leave, quality of care and job satisfaction.
Consultant physicians reported high levels of job satisfaction with 80 per cent saying they “always” or “often” enjoyed their job. But 44 per cent of consultants said they often found themselves doing work that would have previously been done by a junior doctor. A further 14 per cent said they were “always” doing so.
The census also found a large number of doctors in some specialties thought the European Working Time Directive (EWTD) had made the quality of training “worse” or “much worse”.
This was more obvious in some specialties than others. Nearly half of acute and geriatric medicine trainees who responded to the survey thought training was worse or much worse – a view held by nearly 78 per cent in cardiology and gastroenterology.
Views differed amongst the specialties with trainees in palliative medicine, for example, split fairly evenly. Almost half (49.5 per cent) thought the EWTD had no impact on training quality while around 42 per cent thought it was worse or much worse.