Nearly two-thirds of doctors believe that patient safety has deteriorated over the past year, according to a report.
The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) found four out of five (80%) are worried about the ability of their service to deliver safe patient care in the next 12 months.
Even more (84%) believe that the workforce is demoralised by the increasing pressures on the NHS.
Its latest report, NHS Reality Check Update 2018, saw more than 1,500 doctors in England, Wales and Northern Ireland given the same questions they were a year ago – and their responses indicated that the situation had become worse in nearly all areas of care.
Doctors’ responses included one, who said: “Staff simply cannot deliver what is expected of them under current circumstances.
“We are not robots. We are human beings with limits.”
Another concerned physician said: “I cried on my drive home because I am so frustrated and distraught at the substandard care we are delivering.”
It is extremely worrying and depressing that our doctors have experienced an even worse winter than last yearProfessor Jane Dacre
The report found 64% of doctors believe that patient safety has deteriorated over the past year – 10% higher than last year, while the most (93%) had experienced staff shortages across the team – 9% higher than last year.
Nearly half (47%) cited lower-quality care over the past year – 10% higher than last year.
The only measure to have improved was a 4% reduction in those experiencing delays in transfers of care from their service – 56%, down from 60% last year.
The RCP, which has more than 33,000 members and fellows, said the picture painted by those who took part showed a system pushed to its limit.
It warned that doctors are struggling against rising demand, the impact of an ageing population with increasingly complex medical needs, and the difficulties of maintaining morale when the NHS is underfunded, under-doctored and overstretched.
The RCP said it wants the Government to relax visa restrictions for the healthcare workforce and build on successful schemes such as the Medical Training Initiative.
The Government, NHS organisations, royal colleges, professions, trade unions, regulators, higher education institutions and think tanks must also all work together to make sure the NHS has the workforce and resources it needs.
Funding for health and social care must match growing patient need, and there must be more investment in public health initiatives that reduce that need, the report added.
RCP president, Professor Jane Dacre, said: “It is extremely worrying and depressing that our doctors have experienced an even worse winter than last year, particularly when so much effort was put into forward planning and cancelling elective procedures to enable us to cope better.
“We simply cannot go through this again – it is not as if the situation was either new or unexpected. As the NHS reaches 70, our patients deserve better – somehow, we need to move faster towards a better resourced, adequately staffed NHS during 2018 or it will happen again.”
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said it supported the recommendations made in the report.
She said: “We have huge empathy with our hospital colleagues, and we know that GPs around the UK would echo their sentiments around increasing workload, and concerns for patient safety.
“Our NHS is operating under immense pressures and we’re sure that everyone working in the health system can relate to this report in one way or another.
“The combination of a depleted workforce, intense workload, and chronic underfunding has left our health service on the brink, putting both staff and patient wellbeing at risk.
“We agree with the recommendations made in the report that we need to make the UK more accessible and attractive to doctors from other countries, and that public initiatives to reduce patient need must be properly funded if the NHS is to see any benefit.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We are absolutely committed to making the NHS the safest healthcare system in the world, and more staff would now recommend their care to family and friends than ever before.
“We know the NHS is busy, that’s why we supported it this winter with an additional £437million of funding, and gave it top priority in the recent Budget with an extra £2.8bn allocated over the next two years.”