A growing number of doctors wanting to work part-time could lead to huge staff shortages, a royal college is warning.
The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) said more than a quarter of senior consultant physicians are expected to retire in the next three years (many within 18 months), while the majority of trainees entering the NHS (56%) are interested in working part-time.
A fifth of doctors already work part-time and this trend looks likely to increase in popularity, according to the college.
Its poll of 1,523 medics found 43% of doctors have not yet reverted to their original working pattern owing to the pandemic.
Some 57% are working from home at least some of the time, while 67% said working from home has improved their work/life balance.
The pressures we have faced have been greater than they needed to be because of existing staffing shortages. If we do not address this problem, we will have much less to celebrate in futureAndrew Goddard, president of the RCP
More than 60% (72% of trainees) want opportunities for remote IT access, online meetings and remote working to be available in the future.
Meanwhile, 65% reported their organisation had made changes to enable more flexible working during the pandemic.
A third (36%) of those who wanted to work more flexibly thought this would be difficult or impossible, while 35% thought it would be easy.
While 59% of doctors thought their department would support a request to work more flexibly, 41% did not think so, with more than three-quarters (76%) citing not enough medical staff as the reason.
Speaking as the NHS celebrates its 73rd birthday, Andrew Goddard, president of the RCP, said: “It is right that we should celebrate the achievements of healthcare staff during the pandemic as we mark the NHS’s birthday, but the pressures we have faced have been greater than they needed to be because of existing staffing shortages.
Meeting the complex needs of an ageing population, let alone another pandemic, will be all but impossible if we do not expand medical school places now to train more doctors, invest in social care and address the inequalities that create and worsen ill-healthAndrew Goddard, president of the RCP
“If we do not address this problem, we will have much less to celebrate in future.
“Caring commitments and health reasons will be key drivers behind part-time working, but we have to view this as part of a wider cultural shift.
“If a majority of trainees coming into the system are keen to work part-time, we need to find a way to make that happen to keep attracting people into the profession and retaining them.
“The NHS has recognised that and wants to offer flexible working – but it is stuck in a true Catch-22 situation where it cannot do the very thing needed to attract more staff because it doesn’t have enough staff at the moment.
“Meeting the complex needs of an ageing population, let alone another pandemic, will be all but impossible if we do not expand medical school places now to train more doctors, invest in social care and address the inequalities that create and worsen ill-health.”
The RCP said medical school places need to be doubled to avoid medical staff shortages worsening in the future.
Meanwhile, there needs to be increased funding for social care and action to address health inequalities to reduce demands on the NHS, it said.