Shocking workforce figures ‘come nowhere near’ plugging staffing gap and relieving NHS pressures, says BMA

Press release from the BMA

Location: England
Published: Tuesday 22 December 2020

Responding to today's secondary care workforce statistics1 and sickness absence rates2 from NHS Digital, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: “The NHS has been in desperate need of more staff for decades now, and with Covid-19 still ravaging the country, the backlog of non-Covid care mounting, and a no-deal Brexit on the horizon, the ability of the NHS to function properly is in serious jeopardy.

“While it is encouraging that there has been an increase in the overall number of doctors in the NHS, the latest NHS vacancy data3 shows that as of the end of September 7,502 medical posts currently stand vacant – so today’s figures come nowhere near to plugging that gap. It is therefore disingenuous of the Government to celebrate these figures when we consider the shocking reality of the thousands of vacancies, the backlog, and rising patient demand.

“These figures cannot be used to mask the serious workforce shortages across the board, including worrying shortages at Consultant grade4 and the decrease of 344 fully-qualified GPs over the same period5. We need to see a much greater level of investment to grow the workforce and retain those currently working in order to prevent worsening waiting times and further decline in staff morale and, ultimately, patient care.

“In a recent BMA survey, thousands of doctors said they are not confident of their department or practice’s ability to manage either Covid-related (40%), or non-Covid (51%) demand in the coming weeks, and 88% respondents said they felt uneasy that they could not provide the standard of care they wanted during the pandemic.

“These gaps are especially worrying when we consider that stress and mental health issues are on the rise among NHS staff: anxiety, depression, stress or other psychiatric illness are consistently the highest reported category of sickness absence in the NHS, and have risen sharply since the onset of the pandemic, accounting for the loss of 472,715 full-time equivalent days in August alone.

“At a time when the NHS is facing a national health emergency, the need for more doctors has never been more important. We must also work to ensure that those currently working in the health service are properly protected against Covid-19 so that they can continue to fight this devastating virus and keep patients safe.

“We recently wrote to NHS England reiterating the need for the vaccine to be distributed to all frontline healthcare professionals in an equal and prioritised way, and given today’s figures, this is the least that should be done.”


Notes to editors

The BMA is a trade union and professional association 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. The secondary care workforce statistics can be found here
2. Please click here for the full sickness absence rates
3. For the full vacancy data, please click here
4. The BMA's report on consultant workforce shortages and solutions, can be found here