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Hospital Healthcare Europe

More consultants urgently needed

9 April, 2008  

Many more hospital consultants are needed across the UK to maintain and improve the quality of care in the NHS, the British Medical Association (BMA) says in a report, “Enhancing quality: promoting consultant expansion across the NHS”, published today.

The BMA has called on the Health Secretary, Alan Johnson, to support its campaign for more consultants.

The BMA’s consultants’ committee has collected data from medical royal colleges and specialist societies showing a shortfall in the number of consultants required in many specialties including surgery, paediatrics, obstetrics and gynaecology, and cardiology. There is also mounting clinical evidence that in many areas of medical practice, there is a need to increase the number of consultants over and above the expansion that has already taken place in recent years, in order to ensure that patients receive the highest possible level of care, and that the NHS delivers its services in the most cost-effective way.

Based on the current figures, consultant expansion is most needed in the following specialties: Emergency medicine; Trauma; Intensive care; Acute medicine; Paediatrics; Obstetrics.

The BMA report cites a number of recent influential publications that show a clear link between consultant care and quality, and which demonstrate a need for more consultants in order to ensure patients receive the best possible care. Recent financial pressures and short-term planning have forced many NHS trusts to artificially freeze consultant recruitment and this is now beginning to impede improvements in the quality of care, the report says.  

Dr Jonathan Fielden, chairman of the BMA’s consultants’ committee says: “Mounting evidence confirms that consultants bring the highest quality care to hospital patients. Consultants are the most senior and highly skilled doctors working in the hospital who provide leadership and innovation to pioneer and drive forward new treatments and models of care for patients. Fewer complications, better cancer detection rates and lower mortality rates are linked to consultant based services.

“The recent freeze on consultant recruitment has left the UK short of its most highly skilled doctors.  Now that the NHS is in better financial health we would urge NHS trusts to expand the number of consultant posts, where they are needed in their hospitals, to give patients the highest quality care possible.  Many fully trained doctors, who are ready to take up a consultant position, are waiting to compete for posts when they become available.

“The government has ambitious plans for the NHS, including shorter waits for treatment and more focus on prevention. Increasing the numbers of consultants available will enhance care and allow the NHS to flourish beyond its 60th birthday.”

This BMA report will be continually updated as further evidence on workforce planning data and projections is published. The BMA has criticised the lack of clear workforce planning and the paucity of evidence-based planning in the NHS for many years.

Enhancing quality: Promoting consultant expansion across the NHS