BMA report

Tackling medical attrition in the UK’s health services

Our report sets out why retaining doctors needs to be an urgent priority for UK governments, health services and employers and what should be done.

Location: UK
Audience: All doctors
Updated: Tuesday 30 April 2024
Topics: NHS delivery and workforce
NHS Structure Article Illustration

The UK has a shortage of doctors. While these shortages are finally getting some much-needed attention on the national stage, the policy focus is almost exclusively on expanding recruitment and training extra doctors. Better recruitment is essential, but we also need to stop the flow of doctors leaving the health service prematurely.

Drawing on new analysis, we set out the cost of medical attrition in the UK’s health services and a series of urgent measures to better retain the workforce.

Key findings from the report

  • Too many doctors are pushed to leave the workforce early, from early career to before retirement age. For every doctor that leaves, pressures worsen for those who stay, increasing the likelihood that they too will leave the profession.
  • Recruitment, without better efforts to retain existing staff, is an inefficient response to the workforce crisis and will come with a significant preventable price tag. Between September 2022 and September 2023, 15,000 - 23,000 doctors left the NHS prematurely in England alone. We estimate that the minimum cost to NHS employers and the public purse of replacing those doctors lies between £1.6 and £2.4 billion.
  • While the cost of replacing an individual doctor varies, it can easily exceed £300,000. Lost skills and experience, team dynamics, and continuity of care for patients alongside a potential reduction in service quality are difficult to cost but no less important. Attrition looks set to rise, along with its associated cost.
  • The cost of attrition is high, but properly valuing doctors and their contribution provides an attainable solution to the problem. The BMA recommends action in four key areas: (1) pay and debt, (2) working conditions, (3) diversity and inclusion and (4) development and support.

Read this report to know the full cost of doctors leaving

This report can be read in conjunction with our page attrition in the medical workforce summarising which retention issues affect which group of doctors, at which point in time, and to what extent.

  • Attrition
  • Workforce
  • Staffing pressures
  • Retention
  • Pay and debt
  • Working conditions
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Development and support