Research by the BMA has found that the NHS is short of more than 50,000 doctors ahead of what is expected to be one of the most demanding winters on record for the health service.

The research found that England has fallen even further behind comparable EU nations, with just 2.8 doctors per 1,000 people compared to the EU average of 3.7.

At the start of summer, the BMA suggested that to meet this average, our medical workforce would need scaling up by an additional 31% - the equivalent of 49,162 full-time equivalent (FTE) doctors.

Now, just over two months later, data suggests that we have lost a further 1,029 FTE doctors in primary and secondary care, meaning we are now short of up to 50,191 FTE doctors.

Staff are exhausted and in desperate need of respite

The workforce crisis means that staff are exhausting themselves trying to keep up with patient demand, with many working extra unpaid hours.

Some even feel as though they have no choice but to leave the NHS altogether to get the respite they need, further depleting the workforce and putting more pressure on those that remain.

The BMA are now urging the government to regularly publish reports detailing workforce planning. Currently, the Health and Social Care Bill proposes that the Health Secretary should publish this report every five years, but the BMA wants this to go further.

They say that any staffing assessments must be ‘ongoing, accurate and transparent’ so as to adequately meet health and care service staffing needs, now and in the future.

The Association also wants increased Treasury investment into the medical workforce to fund increases in medical school placements, foundation programme and speciality training places, as well as investment in retention initiatives.

“Real and regular risks to patient care and safety”

In August, nearly two thirds of BMA members said they feel the NHS is heading in the wrong direction.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said it is frightening that the shortage of doctors is increasing at such pace and it is therefore unsurprising that so many colleagues believe this. 

He said: “Winter is an incredibly difficult time for the health service, and we just about made it through last year with the demands of Covid-19 on top of usual pressures. With flu season on the horizon and even fewer staff this time round, it’s a total unknown as to how well our services will cope – if they even cope at all. And this is before we even consider the enormous backlog of care generated by the pandemic.

“Alarm bells should have sounded when we struggled to staff the Nightingale hospitals, so Government really cannot afford to put this off any longer. Since then, we’ve seen hospital waiting lists in England grow to 5.61 million, high numbers of A&E patients waiting longer than four hours, and staff morale hit rock-bottom – all of which pose real and regular risks to patient care and safety.”

In order to cope, Dr Nagpaul says an extra £10 billion in funding is now needed from the government to tackle the backlog of patients, reduce the ongoing pressures on staff and to retain and recruit more healthcare professionals.