Royal College of Physicians issues stark warning over care crisis in England
The Royal College of Physicians is warning that the combination of an ageing population and a lack of NHS workforce planning means the country is risking an avoidable crisis in care for older people.
The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has issued a stark warning that NHS workforce shortages are driving the care crisis in England and that the NHS is “woefully unprepared to cope with an ageing population.”
New analysis from the RCP shows that there is the equivalent of just one full time geriatrician per 8,031 people over the age of 65 in England. The findings use data from the RCP’s own census of physicians and the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) population data and demonstrate the extent to which England’s care crisis is only set to grow.
The ONS estimates there will be more than 17 million people aged 65 and above in the UK by 2040, meaning 24 per cent of the population would require geriatric care. Additionally, many of the doctors currently providing geriatric care will, themselves, soon be requiring the same care, and 48 per cent of consultant geriatrics are set to retire within the next 10 years.
Considering these trends, the RCP, along with more than 100 medical organisations, is supporting an amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill requiring the government to publish “regular, independent assessments of the numbers of staff the NHS and social care system need now and in future.” No such data is currently publicly available. The amendment, currently being debated in the House of Lords, was tabled by Baroness Cumberlege and is supported by former NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens (now Lord Stevens of Birmingham), is set to be debated in the House of Lords
Responding to the RCP’s warning, Danny Mortimer, Chief Executive of NHS Employers and Deputy Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “As exhausted NHS staff strive to tackle the enormous treatment backlogs that have resulted from the pandemic, we must not forget about the pressures that our health and social care services face as they work to meet the growing needs of our ageing population.
“To be able to plan effectively for a future workforce, healthcare leaders need clarity in the shape of a clear long-term workforce plan. Sajid Javid’s recent commissioning of a workforce strategy is a very welcome step, but… we would urge the government to accept amendments requiring the health secretary to publish regular, independent assessments of the numbers of staff the NHS and social care system need now and in future.”
The President of the RCP, Andrew Goddard, said: ““I have dedicated my career to working in the NHS – a service that I am fiercely proud of – and yet it scares me to wonder what might happen should I need care as I get older. There simply aren’t enough doctors to go round, not least within geriatrics.
“The workforce crisis we’re facing is largely down to an astonishing lack of planning. All successful organisations rely on long-term workforce planning to meet demand and it’s absurd that we don’t do this for the NHS and social care system. The government needs to accept the amendment put forward by Baroness Cumberlege and make workforce planning a priority.”
Dr Jennifer Burns, President of the British Geriatrics Society, said: “These figures show very clearly the current nationwide shortage of geriatricians – a situation that will only get worse with the predictable rise in the numbers of older people across the UK needing healthcare.
“It is absolutely vital that these fundamental issues around the recruitment, retention, development and support of the workforce are addressed, and that there is a properly-resourced strategy for future needs. The British Geriatrics Society stands with the RCP in strongly supporting the amendment to the Health and Care Bill.”