The UK’s medical profession is at ‘a crunch point’ and will suffer increasing pressure over the next 20 years unless action is taken, the General Medical Council’s (GMC’s) State of Medical Education and Practice report warns today.

The report, published annually, analyses data on the medical workforce across the UK. It identifies a raft of challenges facing the medical profession today against a backdrop of an increasing and older population, and highlights four priorities for the UK’s governments and agencies responsible for medical training and workforce planning.

It follows the launch of a consultation by Health Education England on future workforce provision for the health service.

Four ‘warning signs’ stand out in the report:

  • Supply of new doctors into the UK’s medical workforce has failed to keep pace with changes in demand – the number of doctors on the medical register has grown by 2% since 2012, while in contrast A&E attendances and GP appointments have risen sharply. In England there has been a 27% increase in A&E attendances in that time, while Northern Ireland saw a ten per cent increase.
  • Dependence on non-UK qualified doctors has increased, ranging from 18% in the south-west to 43% in the east of England.
  • At the same time the UK is at risk of becoming a less attractive place for overseas doctors to work in.

Continuing pressure on doctors involved in training and a greater desire for more flexibility in how they work and train.

Charlie Massey, Chief Executive of the GMC, said: "We have reached a crucial moment – a crunch point – in the development of the UK’s medical workforce. The decisions that we make over the next five years will determine whether it can meet these extra demands.

"Each country needs to think carefully about how many doctors are needed, what expertise we need them to have so they can work as flexibly as possible, and where they should be located given the changes and movement in population expected.

"We are a professional regulator, not a workforce planning body, but we want to be an active partner in helping each country of the UK to address these priorities."

Although there is work under way to address these issues and pressure on doctors – an increase in medical school places in England, the growth of health and care associate roles, and drives to boost overseas recruitment – their impact will not register for some time and the GMC believes more needs to be done to meet the challenges on the horizon.

The report sets out four key priorities for workforce planning and how the GMC will work to support them in the years to come:

  • maintaining a healthy supply of good doctors into UK practice
  • helping the UK medical profession to evolve to meet the future needs of patients and healthcare.
  • reducing the pressure and burden on doctors wherever possible
  • improving the culture of the workplace, making employment and training more supportive and flexible.

Charlie Massey added: "The underlying challenge for all in healthcare is how we retain the good doctors we have right now. Everything we hear from the profession tells us that we need to value them more; nurture cultures that are safe and supportive, and do what we can to help staff achieve the right balance between their professional and personal lives through more flexible working arrangements.

"The pressure on our health services shows no signs of letting up. It’s on all of us to understand why doctors are making different choices about their lives and careers."