The RCP has issued a briefing to MPs ahead of an opposition day debate on the NHS workforce.
The RCP has long called for the expansion of medical school and training places. There are simply too few doctors to meet growing demand: according to the latest RCP census, over half (52%) of advertised consultant physician posts went unfilled in 2021 – the highest rate of unfilled posts since records began. Of the 52%, 74% went unfilled due to a lack of any applicants at all.
There is a government cap on the number of medical school places offered every year. Before the pandemic, the cap was 7,500 places. In 2020 and 2021 the government raised this cap in response to a larger proportion than usual meeting grade requirements, but has since returned to it. The RCP welcomed that 2020/2021 expansion and recognises government did not have to take that decision. But given the scale of the challenges we know are coming, government must go further with a funded multi-year programme to expand medical school and training places for new doctors.
A long-term plan for increasing staffing numbers, including expanding medical school and training places, is sorely needed. The RCP’s 2021 blueprint Double or quits estimated that expanding medical school places to 15,000 would cost £1.85bn annually, including clinical placements during medical school and the two year foundation programme. That is less than a third of what hospitals spent on agency and bank staff in 2019/20.
The RCP strongly welcomed the commitment to publish a long-term workforce plan next year with independently verified forecasts for the number of doctors, nurses, and other professionals that the health service will need in 5, 10, and 15 years’ time. We hope the plan will set out steps to expand the medical workforce.
The NHS long-term workforce plan must also include a range of solutions to reduce burnout and improve retention to support current staff. Staff across the system are working incredibly hard to manage the fallout from COVID-19 and tackle the backlog. It is vital they feel supported and valued, including by improving their working conditions.
We are calling on the government to:
- Expand the number of medical school and training places to 15,000 at a cost of £1.85bn annually. The long-term workforce plan is a vital opportunity to commit to this multi-year expansion.
- Set out a timeline for publication for the NHS long-term workforce plan and ensure that it comes with the necessary multi-year funding.
- Include a range of solutions to reduce burnout and improve retention to support current staff in the NHS long-term workforce plan.