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More medical student places needed to avoid impending NHS workforce crisis

Doctors are striving to achieve better work-life balance and it has significant implications for workforce planning, a GMC report reveals.

The state of medical education and practice 2019 (SoMEP) highlights changing attitudes among doctors to work and career development which will impact on the NHS’s ability to plan for patient demand.

Against a backdrop of rising workloads and the need to recruit and retain a sustainable medical workforce, the report finds doctors moving away from traditional career and training paths.

Career choices balancing wellbeing with work have become the norm and may signal a ‘new reality’.

Among notable trends is the rise in the number of doctors choosing to spend time working as a locum, practising medicine abroad, or even taking a year out, rather than going straight into specialty or GP training after the completion of their initial training.

Some do so because they’re unable to go into the specialty training they want straight away. But for many the pressures of working in stretched services are a major factor, the report says.

GMC analysis shows that doctors who paused before starting their specialty training were, on average, at less risk of burnout.

SoMEP also highlights growing popularity of GP specialist training, with a six per cent increase in doctors joining.

However, more doctors doesn’t necessarily mean an overall increase in GP availability, and concerns remain that patient demand is outstripping supply.

Forty-five per cent of GPs reported that they work less than full time, and 36% have reduced their hours in the past year.

GMC Chief Executive Charlie Massey said: “The challenge our health services are facing is no secret. We need more flexible training and career options if high levels of patient care and safety are to be sustained.

“Doctors say they are no longer prepared to stick with the traditional career paths to meet that demand. We are seeing what looks like a permanent shift in the way newer doctors plan their careers.

“That doctors are making choices for a better work-life balance and career development is a new reality which health services cannot ignore.”

In addition to more informed workforce planning, SoMEP also calls on governments and health leaders to ensure:

  • Greater flexibility in medical training and practice.
  • Better resourcing and planning of clinical leadership.
  • Joined-up regulation across the UK’s health services.

Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, commented: “This report is yet further evidence of the need to provide more flexible working hours for doctors.

“If we’re to resolve the NHS workforce crisis, we must accept the reality that doctors’ needs today are very different from five or ten years ago. More and more doctors want to work part time, and we need to adapt our workforce to suit that change.

“Our main concern is that there simply aren’t enough medical students coming through the pipeline to fill the gaps that part time working creates.

“We need to double the number of medical school places so that all specialties are able to adequately recruit, and so that we can create a medical workforce that is fit for the future.”

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