Rota Gaps, Vacancies and Ageing Workforce Mounts Pressure on Hospitals

12 June 2016

UK Figures published today by the Royal College of Anaesthetists (RCoA) show that the number of consultants joining the anaesthetic workforce in the NHS is insufficient to meet patient demand. Numbers of consultants will need to double to maintain the levels required to deliver safe and effective healthcare, based on projections in last year’s report by the Centre for Workforce Intelligence (CfWI). Service pressures are heightened by increases in staff rota gaps, high vacancy rates and an ageing anaesthetic workforce.

Today’s RCoA Medical Workforce Census Report 2015 shows that, while there was an annual average increase between 2007 and 2015 in anaesthesia consultant numbers throughout the UK, the rise, equating to approximately 113 consultants per year in England, this is still less than half the required increase identified in the CfWI review. The CfWI’s projections showed that, with increasing pressure on the NHS, both anaesthetic and ICM workforce levels in England may be required to rise by more than 300 consultants per year.

The independent review by the CfWI, whose functions are now being delivered by the Department of Health and Health Education England, analysed the anaesthesia and intensive care medicine (ICM) workforce in England1 , which highlighted concerns that the demand for services could outstrip supply over the next 20 years. The review found that 15 percent of anaesthetic and 25 percent of ICM need is currently unmet within UK hospitals.

Data within the RCoA’s report shows that within more than half of UK anaesthetic departments, trainee/specialty doctor rota gaps had increased over the previous 12 months. With NHS spending on agency staff reaching a record £3.3 billion in 20152 , today’s report reveals that 98 percent of anaesthetic departments are relying on internal locums and 74 percent use external locums to cover staff shortages.

Another major threat to the workforce is that of the ageing anaesthetist, with a 28 percent increase over the same period in the number of consultants aged between 50 and 59 years.

For full report see Royal College of Anaesthetists June 2016.