Record staffing claim from Government ignores record vacancies and plummeting numbers in general practice, says BMA

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA

Location: England
Last reviewed: 26 May 2022
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Responding to the Department of Health and Social Care announcement1 about record numbers of doctors and nurses in the NHS, Dr David Wrigley, BMA council deputy chair, said:

“The Government’s boast around record doctor numbers overlooks one major issue: we did not have anywhere near enough doctors in the first place, and even with these increases, we still severely lack the clinicians needed to meet demand and give patients the safe, timely, quality care they deserve.

“And while we may have ‘record’ numbers of staff, what the Government fails to mention is that we also have record vacancies in our hospitals. There are 106,000 recorded vacant posts, including almost 40,000 in nursing and more than 8,000 for doctors, in secondary care alone. Data doesn’t even exist for vacancies in primary care.

“However, separate figures today do reveal that England has lost the equivalent of more than 1,600 full-time, fully-qualified GPs since 2015 – and around 400 in the last year alone – something conveniently overlooked in the Government’s announcement.

“The BMA estimates2 that England has around 46,000 fewer doctors than would be needed to meet the average doctor-to-population ratio in comparable EU nations. The scale of this shortage illustrates that such small increases will have little meaningful impact in addressing the workforce crisis and care backlog the NHS now faces.

“While the Government talks about an NHS workforce strategy, it now seems this will be yet another short-term plan, rather than offering long-term projections of the staff numbers needed to meet demands of patient care in 10, 15 or 20 years’ time. Given the long lead times to train a doctor, this is both disappointing and short-sighted. Long-term modelling was a proposal pushed recently by the BMA and more than 100 other expert organisations, charities, and former NHS leaders – and backed by MPs from across the political divide – but was incomprehensibly rejected by the Government during the Health and Care Act’s recent journey through Parliament. It is vital then that a much-needed workforce strategy commits to this; after all, how can we know if we are training enough doctors if we have nothing to measure it against?

“Meanwhile, we need ministers to act to both reform punitive pension tax rules that drive doctors away from the NHS well before they want to, and to reduce red tape for international doctors who wish to contribute their specialist skills to our health service.

“We mustn’t let wide-ranging pronouncements from the Government mask the reality of a woefully understaffed system, and the impact that this has on patients, services and health and care workers on the ground.”


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. Please contact the DHSC for a copy of their press release: ‘Numbers of doctors and nurses tackling the Covid backlog reaches new record’.
  2. Read more about the BMA’s staffing analysis here.