Health Secretary once again avoids details on how Government will retain NHS workforce, says BMA

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA

Location: England
Last reviewed: 3 November 2021
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Responding to the Health and Social Care Secretary’s appearance at the Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee1 yesterday, Dr Latifa Patel, BMA interim representative body chair and workforce lead, said:

“While we wait to hear how the Secretary of State proposes to tackle the NHS’s record backlog of elective care later this month, he appears to be setting up to disappoint by suggesting that this plan will give us very little detail on the most important factor – the workforce.

“This is after last week’s Spending Review woefully failed to explain how it would fund increasing staffing numbers to the level needed, and missed a vital opportunity to keep thousands of doctors working in the NHS by reforming damaging pension taxation rules that leave senior doctors with no choice but to reduce their time spent with patients or even retire early.

“Without enough doctors, nurses or wider staff, it will be impossible to make inroads into this backlog, and once again, the Government appears to be shirking obvious questions about how many staff we need.

“NHS hospitals in England have around 93,000 vacancies, while the BMA estimates we’re short of around 50,000 doctors needed to care for our population2. Meanwhile Mr Javid himself admits that the Government is not on track to deliver the additional 6,000 GPs that his own party had promised in their election manifesto – something we have been warning about for years, with the latest figures showing we’ve lost the equivalent of around 1,800 full-time, fully-qualified GPs since 2015.

“The Health Secretary talks about increasing numbers of medical students, which, though much-needed, will take at least 10 years to produce new fully-qualified GPs and a minimum of 12 years for consultants. This therefore in no way addresses the immediate need to boost doctor numbers and retain staff to deal with the situation we’re facing. Recent BMA surveys have shown that more than half of doctors are looking to reduce their hours after the pandemic, while around half are considering retiring early. Increased recruitment will only help if we’re also able to prevent the haemorrhaging of doctors later in their career.

“This means that retention must be the absolute focus – and one immediate way of making a difference would be by reforming punitive pension rules that force experienced doctors to reduce their hours or even retire early. Wellbeing must also be a priority, protecting hard-working staff from abuse, as well as improving pay and working conditions.

“The NHS, now more than ever, needs the expertise of these highly-skilled doctors and their colleagues, and without action to keep them, it will be patients who suffer.

“The BMA, alongside our colleagues from Royal Colleges, charities and influential thinktanks, is also demanding that a legal duty is placed on the Government, via an amendment to the Health and Care Bill currently going through Parliament3, to produce a report at least every two years that provides independent and transparent workforce projection data to inform long-term decisions about workforce planning, regional shortages and the skill mix needed to help the system keep up with growing patient demand.”


Notes to editors

The BMA is a professional association and trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.

  1. Meeting can be watched at
  2. In the absence of an official baseline against which to quantify the medical workforce shortage, our analysis takes the average doctor to population ratio (doctors per 1,000 people) in those OECD EU countries for which data is available as its baseline. England has the second lowest doctor to population ratio in Europe: our research demonstrates that the English NHS would need an additional 50,000 FTE doctors today to raise our doctor-to-population ratio so it sits on equivalent standing with the average in comparable OECD EU nations.
  3. More information on the amendment available in this briefing.