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‘Pressure of work’ forcing many consultants to consider early retirement

New census data notes the impact our ageing population will have on our ability to provide world class healthcare in the future.

Published in full today, Focus on Physicians is the latest census of consultant physicians and higher specialty trainees in the UK (2015–16). Produced by the Royal College of Physicians, Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, the census highlights the growing pressure in the NHS and the effect this is having on an ageing workforce.

The annual census measures the number of UK consultants and higher specialty trainees in all medical specialties, as well as capturing the views of those in the profession.

Of those who stated they planned to retire early, the most common reasons were the ‘pressure of work’ and ‘dissatisfaction with the NHS’.

As part of the census, consultant physicians were asked about their retirement plans. From the findings it is expected that 24% of the current workforce will reach the age of 65 in the next 10 years – with many stating that they planned to retire at the age of 62. Of those who stated they planned to retire early, the most common reasons were the ‘pressure of work’ and ‘dissatisfaction with the NHS’.  This factor also seems to be reflected in the current increase in the levels of less than full-time working (now standing at 20%), which is especially strong for those over the age of 60.

This year also notes the changes in the demographics of those in the profession and the trends we are likely to see in future. At present 34% of consultant physicians are women, however among trainees over half (53%) are now women, underlining that the profession in the coming years will become much less male-dominated.

Commenting on the census, Dr Harriet Gordon, director of the RCP’s Medical Workforce Unit, said:

As we can see the daily pressure of rota gaps, stretched resources and an ever-increasing number of patients is taking its toll on those who have been in the profession longest. In the 2015–16 census nearly a quarter of the workforce is due to retire in the next 10 years with many stating they plan to retire up to 3 years early.

As we have stated before the NHS is underfunded, underdoctored and overstretched. At a time when trusts are having difficulty appointing consultant posts due to a lack of trained applicants, we need consultants to consider working for a longer time rather than retiring early. It is clear from these findings that this situation will only get worse unless the government invests in training and expands and supports our hospitals in recruiting more doctors in the years to come.

Unless we take swift action our ageing population will inevitably impact on our ability to provide world class healthcare.

The consultant census also notes, along with previous years, the growing need for consultants who can meet the needs of frail older patients. Following trends noted in last year’s census, the greatest increase in consultant jobs advertised have been in geriatric medicine (222) and acute internal medicine (188) suggesting a need for more generalist roles treating acutely ill patients.

At the time the data were collected, there were 14,674 consultant physicians working in the UK.

Other key findings from the census include:

  • Reporting of rota gaps has increased, with 28% of consultants reporting them ‘frequently, causing concern for patient safety’ and 51% ‘often’.
  • Across the UK 44% of advertised consultant appointments could not be filled, mostly due to a lack of trained applicants. 8% fewer appointments were made in the last year.
  • Satisfaction rates remain high, with 77% of consultants and 78% of higher specialty trainees reporting to enjoy their jobs ‘always’ or ‘often’.
  • 13% of consultants report ‘acting down’ regularly to cover trainee rota gaps.

At the time the data were collected, there were 14,674 consultant physicians working in the UK.