Working differently in the shadow of COVID-19: the 2021 UK census of consultant, higher specialty trainee and SAS physicians
13 Oct 2022
The 2021 Consultant Census Report has been jointly published by the College, alongside our colleagues in London and Edinburgh. This year’s census also includes staff, associate specialist and specialty (SAS) doctors for the first time. Over 4,000 consultants and SAS doctors working across the UK contributed to the census.
The 2021 Consultant Census Report has been jointly published by the College, alongside our colleagues in London and Edinburgh. This year’s census also includes staff, associate specialist and specialty (SAS) doctors for the first time. Over 4,000 consultants and SAS doctors working across the UK contributed to the census. You can view the census report here.
The 2021 report highlights that COVID-19 continues to have a major impact on the NHS, its staff and patients, while long standing recruitment and retention challenges look set to intensify as over 50% of consultant vacancies remain unfilled – the highest rate since this data was first collected in 2008.
Key findings from the report include:
- 52% of advertised consultant posts were unfilled in 2021, with three quarters of these remaining unfilled due to having no applicants;
- 44% of the consultant physician workforce is set to reach retirement age in the next decade, while 20% of the workforce will have reached their intended retirement age by 2025;
- One in five respondents are at risk of burnout;
- Consultants estimate that they work 11% more than they are contracted to work, mainly due to their clinical workload;
- 74% of higher specialty trainees (HSTs) missed training opportunities due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In addition, the census reveals that 45% of consultants say they work excessive hours or have an excessive workload ‘almost always’ or ‘most of the time’ – while more than 50% of consultants (53%) didn’t take their full annual leave allocation for the full year.
Among the more positive findings, more than three quarters of consultants (77%) felt valued by their medical colleagues almost always or most of the time, and more than 80% (82%) felt valued by their patients almost always or most of the time.
While COVID-19 did impact significantly on training opportunities, 70% of trainees stated that training in their specialty was excellent or good. Despite significant challenges, job satisfaction remained remarkably resilient, as in previous years, with 83% of consultants saying that they always or often enjoyed their work.
This detailed annual census is a vital source of data on the physician workforce in the UK. The College will continue to use these data to lobby governments throughout the UK to prioritise investment in the medical workforce, and to focus on supporting the recruitment, retention and return of consultants in our health service where appropriate.
This means providing additional medical school places and placements, as well as practical support for those consultants who offer specialist training in placements, ensuring that they have the time within their own jobs plans to provide this. It also means doing more to ensure that physicians have adequate rest and refreshment facilities and sufficient administrative support so that they can focus on delivering safe patient care. All of this must be underpinned by a comprehensive, long-term workforce strategy that will help meet patient demand in the future as our elderly population continues to increase significantly. This is a welcome development, as peoples’ life expectancy has improved over across a number of decades.
Commenting, Mr Mike McKirdy, President of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow said: The results of the census do not come as a surprise to anyone working in our NHS. We are acutely aware of unfilled posts and vacancies in our health service. Doctors and other healthcare staff are forced to compensate for staff shortages by taking on excessive workloads. For too many, this is leading to burnout and has an impact on patient care.
“We simply don’t have enough doctors to meet the current and future demands on our health service. Current workforce planning is inadequate and does not ensure a sustainable medical workforce in the UK. We welcome the progress being made in this area at UK Government level with the announcement of a workforce strategy later in the year. We require a similar approach to workforce planning in the devolved nations in order to see the changes we need to protect the future of our profession.”
Categories: College, Engagement, Wellbeing, Workforce
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