Care Crisis Looming for Older People: RCP

Dr Sheena Meredith

March 03, 2022

"We are sleepwalking into an avoidable crisis of care for older people," the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has warned. It said that a combination of a rapidly ageing population and a lack of NHS workforce planning means that the NHS is woefully underprepared to cope with an ageing population.

According to the RCP’s new analysis, using figures pooled from its own census of physicians alongside population data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), there is the equivalent of just one full time geriatrician per 8031 people over the age of 65 in England. What’s more, according to the RCP’s 2020 census, 48% of consultant geriatricians in England are set to retire within the next 10 years.

"Unless Government commits to publishing regular assessments of the number of staff needed to deliver care, the NHS will be flying blind on staffing," the RCP said in a press release.

Current Nationwide Shortage of Geriatricians

Its census also showed that the workforce shortage varied considerably across the country, from the East Midlands figure - the worst - of one full time geriatrician per 12,561 people over the age of 65, to 1 per 3254 in Central and North East London, the most well-resourced area. However, the RCP said: "Figures across all regions are stark."

Yet, by 2040 there will be over 17 million people in the UK aged 65 and above, according to the ONS estimates. Despite these trends, there is currently no publicly available data on the number of staff the NHS needs to train now to meet future demand for care, the RCP said.

"The NHS is drastically short of staff across all services and specialties, with the lack of geriatricians just an example of where a lack of planning leads," it said. It warned that given the numbers expected to retire within the next decade, "we could be on the threshold of a dramatic drop off if we don’t act now to retain as many of them as possible".

Dr Jennifer Burns, president of the British Geriatrics Society (BGS), said: "These figures show very clearly the current nationwide shortage of geriatricians - a situation that will only get worse with the predictable rise in the numbers of older people across the UK needing health care."

Dr Andrew Goddard, president of the RCP, said: "I have dedicated my career to working in the NHS – a service that I am fiercely proud of - and yet it scares me to wonder what might happen should I need care as I get older. There simply aren’t enough doctors to go round, not least within geriatrics.

"The workforce crisis we’re facing is largely down to an astonishing lack of planning. All successful organisations rely on long-term workforce planning to meet demand and it’s absurd that we don’t do this for the NHS and social care system."

Workforce Planning Needs to be a Priority

The RCP, along with over 100 medical organisations, said it supported an amendment to the Health and Care Bill tabled by Baroness Cumberlege that would require the Government to publish regular, independent assessments of the numbers of staff needed by the NHS and social care system now and in future. Dr Goddard said: "The Government needs to accept the amendment put forward by Baroness Cumberlege and make workforce planning a priority."

The amendment is also supported by former NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens, now Lord Stevens of Birmingham, and will be debated in the House of Lords this week.

Dr Burns said: "It is absolutely vital that these fundamental issues around the recruitment, retention, development and support of the workforce are addressed, and that there is a properly-resourced strategy for future needs. The British Geriatrics Society stands with the RCP in strongly supporting the amendment to the Health and Care Bill."

Dr Amit Arora, BGS vice-president workforce, commented: "Planning ahead for the long term in a realistic way is crucial to ensure that we have sufficient specialists in place across all parts of the UK, and that training, development and support sustain that workforce. Now is the time to prepare for the reality of a massive growth in the number of older people needing healthcare.’"


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