Up to 69 per cent of NHS consultants in some specialties are only working part time, it has emerged, as MPs warned that patients are at risk from a critically understaffed healthcare service.
A report from the health and social care committee concluded that healthcare providers in England are facing ‘the greatest workforce crisis in their history’ with little being done to remedy the situation.
Around one quarter of consultants do not work full time, MPs reported, with the figure rising to nearly seven in 10 for those in palliative medicine.
Increasingly younger doctors are shunning full-time employment, with 30 per cent of paediatrics trainees opting for part-time work, a figure set to rise to 60 per cent by 2040, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health warned in the report.
Health service is struggling
Professor Dame Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairman of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, told the committee that there had been a “generational trend” of people now valuing home life more highly than employment.
Research by the Nuffield Trust for the report shows the NHS in England is short of 12,000 hospital doctors and more than 50,000 nurses and midwives, at a time when the health service is struggling to deal with the pandemic backlog.
MPs also warned that maternity services are “under unsustainable pressure” while the number of full-time GPs fell by more than 700 over three years to March 2022.
Jeremy Hunt, the chair of the committee, said: “Persistent understaffing in the NHS poses a serious risk to staff and patient safety, a situation compounded by the absence of a long-term plan by the Government to tackle it.
“We now face the greatest workforce crisis in history in the NHS and in social care with still no idea of the number of additional doctors, nurses and other professionals we actually need.
“NHS professionals know there is no silver bullet to solve this problem but we should at least be giving them comfort that a plan is in place. This must be a top priority for the new Prime Minister.”
The figures were revealed just a day after the Government’s biennial GP Worklife Survey was published showing that nearly one in five GPs now works an average of 25.7 hours per week, with many filling the rest of their time with private practice.
The average family doctor now works just 38.5 hours per week, a huge drop since 2001, when the average working week was 47.7, leaving patients finding it harder than ever to get an appointment.
A third of GPs are considering leaving within five years, according to the Worklife Survey, with the Royal College of GPs claiming it is “no longer feasible” to just work as a GP, despite an average salary of £100,700 a year before tax.
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, which is part of the NHS Confederation, said the latest figures “highlight the extent of the workforce crisis now facing both the NHS and social care”.
“Tens of thousands of staff vacancies at the last count and an exhausted workforce present one of the greatest challenges to the recovery of the economy and the return of safe, high-quality health services for all,” he added.
Forced to leave the profession
Patricia Marquis, the Royal College of Nursing’s director for England, said that nurses were struggling to feed their families, pay their rent and travel to work, with many forced to leave the profession.
“That persistent understaffing in all care settings poses a serious risk to staff and patient safety should shock ministers into action,” she said.
The Department of Health and Social Care said the Government had commissioned NHS England to develop a long-term workforce plan to recruit and support NHS staff and was running multi-million recruitment drives for maternity and social care.
“We are growing the health and social care workforce, with over 4,000 more doctors, and 9,600 more nurses compared with last year, and over 1,400 more doctors in general practice compared to March 2019,” a spokesman said.
Projections suggest an extra 475,000 jobs will be needed in health and an extra 490,000 jobs in social care by the early part of the next decade.