Making physicians' voices heard: the RCP's work at parliament

RCP public affairs adviser Rory Murray discusses the college's campaigning, advocacy and policy work with government, and highlights our new approach to engaging with MPs. 

The RCP has a long history of campaigning to ensure the voice of the profession is heard at the highest levels of government. The recent removal of doctors and nurses from the Tier 2 visa cap – a cap on skilled worker visas – is another example of the RCP working to change government policy.

In January, the RCP adopted a new approach to engaging MPs, to ensure they are aware of the realities of the frontline workforce shortage. Our annual census of physicians provides a wealth of data, including consultant appointments, rota gaps, specialty trainees and retirement intentions. Using this data we have created a series of regional dashboards to share the localised findings of the census.

In each region, RCP registrar Dr Andrew Goddard and the respective regional advisers have written recommendations, using the local workforce information to create a sustainable workforce.

Rory Murray, RCP policy adviser

We’ve piloted these dashboards in three regions: the South West, Yorkshire and the Humber and the West Midlands. In each region, RCP registrar Dr Andrew Goddard and the respective regional advisers have written recommendations, using the local workforce information to create a sustainable workforce. This includes important short-term measures, such as increasing flexibility in the profession and relaxing immigration rules, as well as setting the foundations for the long-term by doubling the number of medical school places.

Some of the headline statistics are particularly striking, for example in Yorkshire and the Humber only five of 26 consultant acute medicine posts were successfully appointed to during 2016/17, while in the South West only eight of 19 posts in geriatric medicine were successfully appointed to during this period. In the West Midlands 39% of current consultants will reach the planned average retirement age in the next decade.

Across these three regions we contacted 168 MPs. We have received responses from 60 MPs across the political spectrum, who are all broadly supportive of our recommendations, and understand the need to take a combination of actions in both the short and long term to place the NHS workforce on a sustainable footing. We have also had a number of high-profile MPs, including Dr Sarah Wollaston, Sir Oliver Letwin, Ben Bradshaw, Louise Haigh and Dame Caroline Spelman to name just a few, raise the issues of shortages in their areas with government.

Louise Haigh, MP for Sheffield Heeley, quoted our regional data during a Westminster debate with Steve Barclay, minister of state for health. John Grogan, MP for Keighley, asked Jeremy Hunt during health questions in the House of Commons if he would publicly make the case for increasing the number of visas available for overseas doctors, referring to the RCP campaign to relax the visa requirements for doctors. 

    Since starting this programme of advocacy work, the RCP has seen the government change their approach to immigration to ensure that international doctors and nurses can come to work in the UK

    Rory Murray, RCP policy adviser

    The RCP has also worked with MPs to table more than 30 parliamentary questions across a breadth of workforce policy issues including:

    • supporting doctors in the later stages of their careers
    • the implications of Brexit on the physician workforce
    • the need to increase the number of medical school places
    • immigration policy for doctors
    • specific issues about the recruitment of geriatric consultants.

    A number of MPs have also either forwarded our letter to the secretary of state for health and social care, or have written to him to share their concerns following our engagement with them. During our annual conference, Innovation in Medicine 2018, Jeremy Hunt acknowledged our campaign to double the number of medical school places, and said that Health Education England will be looking at medical school numbers again in due course.

    Since starting this programme of advocacy work, the RCP has seen the government change their approach to immigration to ensure that international doctors and nurses can come to work in the UK – a great example of collaborative campaigning across the health sector. We now turn our attention to campaigning for a sustainable workforce by increasing the supply of medical school places, creating more flexible career pathways and investing in the public health workforce. 

    Our work will cover all regions of England, and we’ll be in touch by email about how you can help us to ensure the voices of the profession are heard.

    Rory Murray is a public affairs adviser at the RCP.