Consultant Workforce – Shortages and Solutions

18 Nov 2020 Anne Marie Fogarty

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In July 2020, the British Medical Association (BMA) UK consultants committee hosted a roundtable event with representatives from medical royal colleges to discuss the future of the consultant workforce in England. The meeting addressed short, medium, and long-term staffing problems, their causes, and potential solutions.

As solution-driven staffing organisation, we took great interest in the report that followed on from the above discussion and summarised the outcomes of the discussion, highlighting causative factors for the staffing crises and emphasising why expanding the workforce is a must.

Key points were as follows:

  • The UK, like the rest of the world, has a growing and ageing population-increasing demand for medical care.
  • Consultants are becoming older in general within the workforce, often choosing an alternative career track.
  • Many consultants are leaving medicine earlier due to anxiety, stress, burnout, and tax on pensions.
  • Recent research from the BMA and medical royal colleges found that consultants are choosing earlier retirement. Often due to issues such as job satisfaction, wellbeing, workload, ill-health, bureaucracy, and pension taxation rules. A recent BMA survey showed that 6 out of 10 consultants intend to retire before or at the age of 60. (1)
  • Working in a pressurising and understaffed environment can lead to both physical and mental wellbeing deficits. Absenteeism is common, and family relationships can suffer.

The report concluded:

–       There are real evidence-based benefits to moving to a system of consultant-delivered care. Benefits such as confident rapid decision making, improved outcomes, benefits for the training of junior doctors and more which are detailed in the report.

–       Consultant vacancies are likely higher than the data suggests. It takes a long time to train as a consultant, so now is the time to deliver the changes needed to address the crisis in the NHS.

What are the effects of COVID on the staffing crises?

The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the need to expand the consultant workforce. COVID-19 has not helped staffing matters, placing a significant strain on NHS resources, and creating a backlog of non-COVID patients requiring care, which is likely to only grow in the winter ahead.

To address this backlog, reduce waiting lists and waiting times and restore service to previous levels within the NHS, medical workforce numbers must increase. (1)



Short term solutions

  • Recruit retired doctors who want to come back to work.
  • Focus on protecting doctors from infection – PPE supply must be a priority.

Medium-term solutions

  • Retention of staff – seek out strategies to retain current staff.
  • Reform of the pension taxation system.
  • Allow consultants to work flexibly, and if possible, remotely.
  • Allow doctors to change components of their role.
  • Offer sabbatical leave.
  • Support staff going through menopause.
  • Address the real times pay erosion.
  • Develop a supportive and inclusive workplace.
  • Change the gender pay gap.
  • Provide doctors with opportunities for development and research.

Long term solutions

  • Ensure an appropriate future supply of consultants with a collaborative strategy to source, retain and enhance consultant uptake in the UK.


The current consultant workforce needs expansion and retention planning that will stand up against a severe winter within the NHS now and in the future.

The short, mid, and long-term solutions suggested in the report from the BMA require immediate attention to meet the demands placed on the NHS. Government intervention is needed and sooner rather than later.

As an innovative staffing solution organisation, we have supported the NHS and private sector over many years and will continue that support through robust operations and processes, a clear dedication to our mission and safeguarding quality.

Visit us here for a chat with a dedicated recruitment consultant today, and start your journey with a driven organisation.


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