Burnout, retirement and a reliance on locum staff are among a host of concerns raised in a new report from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM), which urges the UK Government to take action to support and maintain the emergency medicine (EM) workforce.
The report, entitled ‘Emergency Medicine Workforce in England’, published on 28 May, reveals the extent of the capacity and staffing issues experienced by emergency departments, which is having a negative impact on staff morale and retention, as well as on patient care.
For example, there should be one whole-time equivalent consultant for every 4,000 annual attendances, but the report states that this ratio currently stands at 1:7052. What’s more, some 45% of the total EM workforce is made up by trainee doctors, posing a potential threat to service provision, especially out of hours.
Another particularly pressing issue, the RCEM notes, is the ageing pool of consultants employed within emergency departments. Some 29% of its consultant members are now aged over 50. Many are doing fewer hours during this stage of their careers, and ‘with a third of the workforce approaching retirement age at the same time, we may witness a mass exodus of experienced senior clinicians’, the report states.
These issues have resulted in an overreliance on locum staff, which takes a significant percentage of the wage bill.
Extra EM training places needed
Highlighting that the system is stretched beyond capacity and requires the next generation of EM doctors to bolster it, the RCEM’s president Dr Adrian Boyle said: ‘You have to keep the topping up the team, and that is why we are urgently calling on the Government to commit to ensuring there will be at least 120 extra training places for EM doctors every year for at least six years.’
This recommendation from the report, which would see more than 700 new trainee EM doctors being trained between 2024 and 2030, aims to help achieve safe staffing levels, ease pressure on existing staff and support capacity and resilience in emergency departments.
Dr Boyle concluded: ‘We are still waiting for the long-promised NHS workforce plan. And it is becoming increasingly important that this is published as soon as possible to avoid the crisis in the NHS worsening; and that it contains specific numbers, details and costings. Nothing less would be a disservice to our members, their colleagues, to patients and the public.’
Staffing shortages are being seen across the UK and Europe, with a mass-exodus of hospital and healthcare staff being widely reported. In the UK, the much-anticipated NHS workforce plan has indeed been delayed once again as rumours circulate around its prohibitively high cost.