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Workforce faces ‘crunch point’ as worsening crisis looms, warns GMC

The GMC has issued a stark warning to NHS workforce planners, after finding the rise in doctor numbers is significantly failing to keep up with demand.

Its annual State of medical education and practice in the UK report found that in the past five years the number of doctors on the GMC register increased by 2%.

The number of GPs on the register has risen by 3% during the same time period, however the UK population has grown by 4% since 2012, the report said.

The GMC said this comes as the dependence on non-UK qualified doctors has increased, and at a time when the UK risks becoming a less attractive place to work due to Brexit. It highlighted the East of England as the region with the highest proportion (43%) of doctors who had trained abroad.

The report said: ‘We have reached a crucial moment – a crunch point – in the development of the UK’s medical workforce, and attention must be paid to the warning signs that doctors are sending us.’

The GMC warned that over the next 20 years, the population would get larger, and older, adding pressure to doctor workloads.

‘The decisions that we make about it in the next five years will determine whether it can meet these extra demands,’ the report said.

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘We know doctors are worried about their ability to provide safe patient care, so it’s important to see the regulator, whose responsibility it is to ensure patient safety, acknowledging the impact that staff shortages have on the delivery of safe, high-quality care.’

The GMC’s warning comes as Health Eduction England’s 10-year workforce strategy, published last week, said that at current recruitment rates only 72,000 extra staff would have joined the NHS by 2027 compared with the 190,000 it estimates it will require.

But the GMC review also carried some good news for doctors, noting a 35% decrease in GMC complaints reaching full investigation in the past five years, from 2,265 cases in 2011 to 1,436 in 2016.

The news comes as Pulse revealed last year that GMC would no longer pursue formal fitness-to-practise investigations when a complaint was made following a one-off clinical mistake.

Dr Catherine Wills, deputy head of advisory services at the MDU, said: ‘We know how stressful it can be for a doctor undergoing a GMC investigation and are pleased at the success of the measures put in place by the GMC to reduce the need for investigations at an early stage.’

However, despite this, the report showed that 63% of investigtions were still closed with no further action taken in 2016.

Although this was down from 82% in 2015, MPS senior medicolegal adviser Dr Pallavi Bradshaw said ‘over a thousand doctors go through a needless, stressful and slow process each year, while many complainants also end up disappointed with the outcome’.

She added: ‘While some improvements have been made in this area, the GMC must continue to improve the complaints triage process as a priority to avoid unnecessary investigations.’

A study recently found that 78% of doctors with complaints lodged against them feel the investigation process was ‘needlessly’ long, causing depression and anxiety.

The Department of Health is currently undertaking a consultation into reducing the number of healthcare regulators in the UK from the current nine bodies down to ‘three or four’, a move it has said could raise standards of the fitness-to-practise decision-making process.