Deteriorating patient care 'heart-breaking' for NHS consultants with half to retire by 2032

Credit: PA Images

Almost three quarters of consultants in Wales say staff shortages are having a negative impact on patient care, according to the Royal College of Physicians (RCP).

Figures have also revealed that almost half of consultant physicians plan to retire within the next decade, removing more than 400 doctors from the NHS in Wales by 2032.

The RCP's vice president for Wales Dr Hilary Williams said it is "heart-breaking" for doctors who feel unable to deliver the best care in an NHS that is "bursting at the seams".

It comes as around 200 consultant physicians attended the college's annual conference in Cardiff on Thursday.

  • Consultant oncologist and RCP Wales vice president Dr Hilary Williams tells ITV Wales that colleagues are often treating hospital patients in chairs

Dr Williams said: "I think the figures tell us it's about time to look after our patients and particularly those people who come into hospital as an emergency.

"There's no doubt there's pressures right across from clinics to the front door but the front door is where the real pressures are.

"When I talk to teams they're just talking about looking after people who are sitting in chairs all night, in chairs for two or three days, and that's our elderly, frail population.

They might be in the last year of their life and that's the best we can offer them and we know that's not what we trained for and it's not what we want to deliver and it's pretty heart-breaking."

Figures obtained through an RCP survey found:

  • 61% of consultant physicians report daily or weekly trainee rota gaps

  • 74% of consultant physicians feel that rota gaps are having a negative impact on patient care

  • 82% of consultant physicians routinely work above their contracted hours

  • 47% of consultant physicians intend to retire within the next decade.

  • Dr Andrew Lansdown, consultant physician and RCP regional adviser, says an aging population and social problems are contributing towards growing pressures

Consultant physician and RCP regional adviser Dr Andrew Lansdown said staff are "physically and mentally exhausted".

"Most departments will have at least one vacancy if not more, and then you're trying to cross-cover colleagues so obviously there's pressure from that aspect," he said.

"You see staff who are getting very tired, particularly this side of the pandemic, burning out.

"There's a lot of job satisfaction and enjoyment in the actual work that we do but it's the system we work in, that's where the struggle lies and the tension.

"Delivering the best quality healthcare for Wales continues to be a challenge."

In October junior doctors and consultants in England held their longest period of joint strike action. Credit: PA Images

The Welsh Government said despite budgetary pressures, the NHS workforce is at record levels thanks to continued investment in education and training.

A spokesperson added: "There is a global shortage of all healthcare workers and we are working with health boards to fill vacancies against this backdrop.

"We've increased our training budget for the ninth year in a row to £281m this year, and our National Workforce Implementation plan sets out actions to how we will improve recruitment, retention and reduce reliance on agency staff."

But Dr Williams insisted there has been "10 years of fairly poor investment" and called for a "long-term commitment to change."

The Welsh Conservatives described the figures revealed by the RCP as "completely unsustainable".

Shadow Health Minister Russell George MS said: "In Labour-run Wales, we already know that we have thousands of nurse vacancies, patient-to-GP ratios are rising and we have a serious lack of dentists.

Now the Royal College of Physicians are telling us that we are set to lose half of our current consultants in the next decade. This is completely unsustainable.

"The Welsh Conservatives want to see a recruitment and retention plan in the same vein as Rishi Sunak's, a tuition fee refund for healthcare workers that stay in Wales and a fully resourced Welsh NHS by reprioritising money away from Labour's plans for more politicians and blanket 20mph."

Junior doctors in Wales are currently being asked to vote on strike action by the British Medical Association.

Consultants and junior doctors in England have already held their longest period of joint strike action in a three-day walkout in October.

The Welsh ballot is set to run for six weeks closing on 18 December. If successful it will lead to a 72-hour full walk-out.

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