Patients waiting 12 hours to be seen in an emergency is the fault of the Government, says BMA

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA.

Location: England
Last reviewed: 14 June 2022

Responding to the publication of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine’s ‘Tip of the Iceberg report’ which highlights how many people are waiting 12 hours or more to be seen, Dr Simon Walsh, BMA consultants’ committee deputy chair and emergency medicine consultant, said:

“These stark and shocking waiting time figures show without doubt that we don’t have enough doctors and other healthcare staff, and we don’t have enough beds. It’s unforgivable that the Government has allowed the NHS workforce crisis to get to this point and it’s tragic to see the Urgent and Emergency Care system falling apart at the seams with exhausted and burned-out doctors leaving because they just can’t take any more. The impact on patients – including on their safety - is only going to worsen unless the Government quickly intervenes.

“In autumn last year BMA analysis found that when our doctor-to-population ratio was compared to that of our most comparable EU neighbours, England would need an additional 50,000 doctors simply to meet the average number of doctors per 1,000 people in OECD EU nations. There is a desperate need for a long-term solution to the historic medical staffing crisis, and addressing the key drivers of poor retention will be crucial. Last year more than half of consultants we asked in a survey said they were planning to retire early – with the biggest reason behind this decision being punitive pension taxation rules. Wellbeing also needs to prioritised, while the real-terms pay cuts experienced by consultants in recent years must be reversed in order to retain our most highly-skilled clinicians.

“Compared to other nations, the UK has a very low total number of hospital beds relative to its population. The average number of beds per 1,000 people in OECD EU nations is 4.6, but the UK has just 2.4. Germany, by contrast, has 7.9. Combined with staffing shortages, an insufficient core bed stock means that hospitals are less able to cope with large influxes of patients, for example during winter or periods of high demand.

“Immediate action has to be taken by the Government to stop experienced doctors leaving – by committing to fair pay and conditions, tackling the punitive pensions taxation rules, and addressing the range of other retention issues - and to invest in expanding the entire doctor training pipeline from medical school onwards. As we have also repeatedly said, we need regular, detailed and publicly available health and care service workforce assessments, which will then inform current and future recruitment needs. Otherwise this grave situation is only going to become catastrophic.”


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.