Attracting supporting and retaining doctors a must to meet healthcare challenges
More doctors entered GP training and other shortage-hit specialties this year, but support must be stepped up to continue this trend, a new General Medical Council report has found.
The regulator’s Workforce report also highlights that UK healthcare is more reliant than ever on overseas doctors. In 2019, for the first time, more non-UK graduates joined the medical register than British-trained doctors.
However, retention of all doctors remains a challenge. Workload pressures and workplace cultures that don’t always offer enough support are among the factors that cause significant numbers of doctors – from the UK as well as overseas – to leave the medical register.
"Doctors are in short supply and so demand is high worldwide. Overseas doctors have long played crucial roles in UK health services. But now our workforce is more diverse than ever, at a time when pressures on our health services make training doctors a huge challenge."
GMC Chief Executive
Charlie Massey, the GMC’s Chief Executive, said:
‘Doctors are in short supply and so demand is high worldwide. Overseas doctors have long played crucial roles in UK health services. But now our workforce is more diverse than ever, at a time when pressures on our health services make retaining doctors a huge challenge.
‘It is vital that the diversity we see across our hospitals and surgeries is embraced by those in leadership roles. Medicine is a highly mobile profession, and the UK has traditionally done well attracting doctors from abroad. But doctors must get the support they need if they are likely to stay here long term. In the past that has not always been the case.
‘Compassionate leadership and improved workplace cultures can contribute to improved retention of doctors. That also helps doctors’ wellbeing, which in turn benefits patients. It will help make sure we have the workforce we need now and in the years ahead.’
The GMC’s warning follows its publication, earlier this year, of the Fair to refer? report. That highlighted lack of support, poor feedback by managers and poor inductions as reasons for disproportionate referrals of black, Asian and minority ethnic doctors to the regulator for fitness to practise concerns.
The state of medical education and practice in the UK: The workforce report is the first time the GMC has published a report specifically-focused on workforce issues and based on its own data. It reveals that the number of doctors licensed to practice medicine in the UK rose above a quarter of a million for the first time in 2019. However, increasing numbers of doctors are choosing to reduce the hours they work in response to workload pressures and changing career expectations.
Encouragingly, there are also signs of growth in those entering training programmes to become GPs and some shortage-hit specialties, as well as a sharp rise in overseas doctors. Among data highlighted in the report are:
- A six per cent rise in numbers on GP training programmes in the last year, a much sharper increase than in recent years.
- A two per cent rise in doctors in psychiatry training, following years of stagnation and decline.
- Increases in radiology training (seven per cent) and training for emergency medicine (four per cent).
- The number of non-UK or EEA doctors joining the medical register each year doubling between 2017 and 2019.
Charlie Massey added:
‘Medicine remains a popular and rewarding career. The number of doctors is rising and there is evidence of healthcare systems responding to need in certain areas. But the supply of doctors, particularly in hard-to-fill roles, must not be taken for granted.
‘Meeting future patient demand requires more expert generalists as well as specialists, and greater flexibility in training and job design. Increasing new doctors onto the register, reducing the loss of working hours due to pressures and retaining as many doctors as possible are all critical challenges.
‘We have been working with those responsible for workforce strategies, in all four UK nations, to identify how these challenges can be addressed. We are doing all we can, for example by making routes onto the register as simple as possible, but action is required from all those involved in UK healthcare.’