By: 24 June 2016
Anaesthetist workforce shortfall creating ‘perfect storm’ for patient care

Anaesthetist workforce shortfall creating ‘perfect storm’ for patient care

Consultant numbers in anaesthesia are not increasing sufficiently to address demand, the Royal College of Anaesthetists (RCoA) has warned.

The RCoA’s annual Medical Workforce Census Report shows that between 2007 and 2015 the number of anaesthesia consultants increased by an average of 113 a year, but this was less than half of what is needed to meet demand.

An independent review by the Centre for Workforce Intelligence last year found that 15 per cent of anaesthetic and 25 per cent of intensive care medicine (ICM) need is currently unmet within UK hospitals, and the demand for anaesthesia services could outstrip supply within 20 years.

Dr Liam Brennan, president of the RCoA, said: “Today’s report, highlighting rota gaps, vacant posts and an ageing workforce, in an acute, high-pressure specialty such as anaesthesia is very concerning.

“These workforce shortcomings combined with spiralling service pressures suggest that we are heading for a perfect storm with implications for the welfare of both patients and clinicians. These data, representing the most comprehensive census of the UK anaesthesia workforce, demonstrates a compelling case for additional training posts in anaesthesia and ICM if we are to avert detrimental effects on future access to vital services and safe patient care.”

The report also found that the anaesthesia workforce is increasingly reliant on temporary staff, with 98% of NHS departments using internal locums and 74 per cent using external locums to cover staff shortages.

In 2015, there were rota gaps more than once a week at 89 per cent of anaesthesia departments in England, 100 per cent in Northern Ireland, 92 per cent in Wales and 35 per cent in Scotland.

Across the UK, 4.4 per cent of consultant and 11 per cent of specialty trust-grade posts were vacant, and half of anaesthesia departments reported using consultants ‘acting down’ to cover trainee rota gaps.

The report also found that an ageing workforce meant shortages are likely to get worse, with a 28 per cent increase in the number of consultants aged between 50 and 59.

Recent Health Education England data showed that recruitment rates for anaesthetics declined from 100 per cent to 94 per cent in the past year.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “We don’t recognise the RCoA figures. Anaesthetists play a vital role in the NHS, so it’s important we have an appropriate number available across the week.

“Since 2010 we have almost 900 additional anaesthetists in the NHS, an increase of more than 16 per cent, with more than 3,000 in training posts every year.”

Source: National Health Executive