The RCP has issued a briefing ahead of the Westminster Hall debate on the potential merits of training additional doctors led by Anthony Browne MP.
The RCP has long campaigned for an expansion of medical school places to ensure we are training enough doctors now to meet demand in future. Workforce is the biggest barrier to reducing NHS waiting lists and providing care sustainably in the long-term. There are simply too few doctors to meet demand: the latest RCP’ census found that over half (52%) of advertised consultant physician posts went unfilled in 2021, the highest rate of unfilled posts since records began. Of the 52%, 74% went unfilled due to a lack of any applicants at all.
Forecasts by the Office for National Statistics suggest that by 2040, there will be 17 million people in the UK over the age of 65. At the same time, according to the RCP census, 44% of consultant physicians will reach retirement age in the next decade (average retirement age of 62–63 years). These are challenges that we can choose to be prepared for if we act now. It takes time to train a doctor, so to feel the benefit in seven or so years’ time, we need to expand places now.
The RCP’s 2021 blueprint Double or quits estimated that expanding medical school places to 15,000 would cost £1.85bn annually, including clinical placements during medical school and the two year foundation programme. That is less than a third of what hospitals spent on agency and bank staff in 2020/21.
Any expansion in medical school places will require an increased number of training places underpinned by multi-year funding to support places through to completion of training. Significant efforts to retain existing staff are also key. Staff across the system are working incredibly hard to manage the fallout from COVID-19 and tackle the backlog. It is vital they feel supported and valued, including by improving their working conditions.
The RCP strongly welcomed the government’s commitment to publish a long-term workforce plan with independently verified forecasts for the number of doctors, nurses, and other professionals that the health service will need in 5, 10, and 15 years’ time. That plan, due later this year, is a vital opportunity to commit to a funded multi-year expansion of medical school and training places to ensure we have the doctors we need in future.