5th Oct 2021

The NHS consultant crisis and how to tackle it

Keywords: NHS

Reducing the huge backlog of 5.5 million patients waiting for treatment or appointments as a result of the COVID pandemic is the biggest challenge facing the NHS.

The crisis is being exacerbated by a “perfect storm” affecting consultants in the NHS.
Following an in-depth study into problems in the recruitment, retention and retirement transition of the 46,000 consultants working in the NHS, I believe that major reform of the way their careers are managed is needed. Just as demand for health services has reached record levels, so the number of consultants has been steadily decreasing.

Factors such as increased workload, poor work/life balance, loss of autonomy, increased responsibility for supervising trainee doctors and low morale have all contributed to the crisis.

The UK now has fewer consultants her head of population that many other European countries, with many UK doctors choosing early retirement and reducing hours to avoid potential financial “penalties” that arise from prolonged service beyond the point at which they have made the maximum NHS pension contributions.

New national strategy
I believe that the way forward is for a National Consultant HR Management Strategy for the NHS similar to talent management programmes used in commercial and other large organisations.
This should be applied at different stages of the doctor’s careers such as:

Pre-consultant stage

  • Increase recruitment into medical schools
  • Boost number of junior doctors in training
  • Reduce drop-out rate
  • Encourage greater flexibility

Early and middle career

  • Optimise recruitment, induction, training, mentoring and monitoring of consultants
  • Encourage education, greater opportunities and improved reward to maintain motivation

Late career/transition
Late-career consultants have the most to offer in terms of experience and development of highly efficient practices.

A successful strategy to encourage them to prolong their careers needs to focus on changes in work patterns such as prioritisation of clinical tasks allowing them to focus on the most challenging and complex surgical or medical procedures.

Rather than have a set retirement date, it would be better to introduce a transition period that will allow for late-career consultants to have a gradual reduction of activities.

The opportunity to extend the length of service of consultants in this group even by 12 to 18 months would have a significant impact in reducing waiting lists.

Combined with the new  funding for the NHS announced by the Government, I am confident that this new HR approach to the management and development of medical talent will help enable the NHS to achieve its goals in both the short and long term.

What are your views about safeguarding the future of NHS consultants?
Please let me know, especially if you work in the health sector. 
You can comment via my contact page, or via the articles section of my LinkedIn page. Click here. 




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Keywords: NHS