Hospital Dr News

Rota gaps, unfilled posts and sickness absence are the new NHS normal, census reveals

Rota gaps, unfilled posts and high levels of reported sickness absence continue to dog the NHS, a census of physicians reveals.

The annual census, by the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, and the Royal College of Physicians of London, shows that the number of posts needed across the system significantly outnumbers the supply of physicians.

Other key findings from this year’s census include:

  • The ratio of consultant physicians to population served varies widely across the UK and regions with fewer consultants also have the highest rates of unfilled advertised posts.
  • 40% of consultants and 63% of senior trainees said that rota gaps occurred on a daily or weekly basis.
  • 45% of consultants and 61% of senior trainees reported that a trainee was absent due to sick leave during their last on-call shift, particularly foundation year 2 (FY2) and core medical trainee (CMT) doctors.
  • 55% of senior trainees reported they had felt pressured to cover rota gaps and 26% said they were encouraged to take on the work of more than one doctor almost always or most of the time when covering a gap.
  • Consultants and senior trainees continue to find their general internal medicine (GIM) work much less satisfying than their specialty work.
  • 32% of senior trainees reported that their morale was worse compared with a year ago and only 20% reported that it was better, with 69% reporting that working conditions affected their morale.
  • Close to half (43%) of advertised consultant posts with an advisory appointments committee (AAC) in England went unfilled due to a lack of suitable applicants. However, this year the number of consultant posts advertised with an AAC also fell by 33%.

Professor Jackie Taylor, the President of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, said: “The wellbeing of doctors is suffering because of the increased workforce pressures that we face, and this situation now risks plunging our profession into a downward spiral which contributes to further workforce shortages and rota gaps.

“That’s why we urgently need a comprehensive plan to address the serious issues that this census raises, so we can reduce the stress that doctors are under and take steps to retain practitioners within the NHS.”

Dr Rob Harwood, BMA consultants committee chair, commented: “This survey makes for stark reading, and not only reveals the extent of the workforce crisis in our hospitals, but also the very real impact this has on the lives and wellbeing of doctors working on the front line trying to provide the best care to patients.

“With fewer staff to meet rapidly rising demand, doctors’ morale is plummeting. Alongside damaging pension legislation, it is no wonder wards are struggling to fill vacancies, and so there is a vicious cycle.

“The Government must get a grip on the staff shortages within our NHS by investing in the whole system, removing perverse pension rules that stop doctors taking on work, and assuring overseas-trained doctors that they will continue to be welcome here after Brexit.”

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