Campbell, D. The Observer. Published online: 11th June 2016
The NHS faces a critical shortage of anaesthetists that could force operations to be delayed and even threaten patient safety, doctors’ leaders have warned.
New research shows that by 2033 every hospital trust will have 10-20 fewer consultant anaesthetists than they will need to meet rising patient demand. It estimates that, while the NHS has agreed that its total of anaesthetists should expand to 11,800 by that date, on current trends it is likely to reach only 8,000 – a shortfall of 3,800, or about 33%.
The Royal College of Anaesthetists (RCoA), which carried out the research, warned that patients and the smooth running of hospitals would be hit if the existing shortfall in numbers was allowed to increase. Dr Liam Brennan, the college’s president, said: “Anaesthetists possess a unique and non-transferable skill set that is essential to maintaining core hospital services, so the potential impact of a reduced anaesthetic workforce would have serious implications for patient safety across the whole NHS. We already have fewer than we need and the shortages are worrying.”
The college’s latest census of the UK’s anaesthesia workforce, the first since 2010, also found that 74% of hospitals already rely on locum anaesthetists hired from medical employment agencies to ensure their rotas are full. The cost of that is part of the NHS’s huge annual bill – £3.7bn a year in England alone – for temporary staff.
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