MEDICAL practice in the UK is at "a crunch point" warns the GMC, with the number of doctors on the medical register having grown by only 2 per cent since 2012 despite sharply increased patient demand.
The warning comes in the GMC’s State of medical education and practice in the UK: 2017 report which predicts increasing pressure on the health service over the next 20 years unless serious action is taken. The annual report, which analyses data on the medical workforce across the UK, identifies a raft of challenges facing the medical profession today against the backdrop of an increasing and older population.
"Warning signs" highlighted in the report include a failure in the supply of new doctors to keep pace with changes in demand. Dependence on non-UK qualified doctors has increased, ranging from 18 per cent in the south-west to 43 per cent in the east of England.
The report acknowledges that work is under way to address these issues and ease pressure on doctors (including increased medical school places in England, the growth of health and care associate roles, and drives to boost overseas recruitment) but the impact of these measures will not register for some time.
The GMC believes more needs to be done to meet the challenges on the horizon.
Charlie Massey, Chief Executive of the GMC, said: "We have reached a crucial moment – a crunch point – in the development of the UK’s medical workforce. The decisions that we make over the next five years will determine whether it can meet these extra demands.
"Each country needs to think carefully about how many doctors are needed, what expertise we need them to have so they can work as flexibly as possible, and where they should be located given the changes and movement in population expected.
"We are a professional regulator, not a workforce planning body, but we want to be an active partner in helping each country of the UK to address these priorities."
President of the Royal College of Physicians London, Professor Jane Dacre, commented: "We share the reports concern about the low numbers of doctors in some specialties. Following our census, we are particularly concerned about geriatric medicine and acute internal medicine. The fact that our population is ageing rapidly, with individuals often having many complex diseases, there needs to be incentives to encourage many more of our physicians into these specialties, especially in parts of the UK where skilled medical professionals are particularly scarce.
"While we agree that in the long term our reliance on doctors from overseas should be reduced, in the short term we do need to fill significant gaps in the workforce by making the UK attractive and accessible. That is why it is welcome to see the GMC’s support for the expansion of the Medical Training Initiative."
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs said: "This wide-ranging report shines a light on the very real workforce pressures we are facing in general practice and ultimately, makes a loud and clear statement that we need more GPs.
"We need a steady stream of medical students entering our workforce, but our recent report Destination GP found that 76 per cent of medical students had heard negative comments about general practice by their final year at university.
"Archaic perceptions about general practice must be addressed - and today's report underlines why - but we also need to expose more medical students to more general practice early on in their training, through funding more high quality placements, and GP societies that promote what a diverse and intellectually stimulating profession general practice can be."