NHS ‘woefully unprepared’ for ageing population – medics

The Royal College of Physicians warned that the UK is facing a ‘crisis in care’ for elderly people.

03 March 2022

There are not enough specially trained doctors to look after an ageing population, leading medics have warned.

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) said the NHS is “woefully underprepared” to deal with a rising number of elderly people due to a lack of doctors trained in elderly medicine – also known as geriatricians.

The college said a combination of a rapidly ageing population and a lack of NHS workforce planning means the nation is “sleepwalking into an avoidable crisis of care for older people”.

Analysis from the RCP shows there is just one full-time geriatrician for every 8,031 people over the age of 65 in England.

There are disparities across the nation, with one geriatrician caring for more than 12,500 over-65s in the East Midlands, while the figure in north-east and central London is one per 3,254.

Estimates suggest that by 2040 there could be as many as 17 million over-65s.

But the college warned that many doctors will soon be requiring geriatric care themselves as 48% of consultant geriatricians are due to retire within the next decade.

The RCP said the health service is short of staff across all specialities and the shortage of geriatricians is one example of why the health service needs more workforce planning.

It said that there is no publicly available data on the number of staff the NHS needs to train now to meet future demand for care.

The RCP has joined more than 100 medical organisations calling for a change to the Health and Care Bill which would require the Government to publish regular assessments of the numbers of staff in the NHS and social care system.

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. The Government needs to accept the amendment put forward by Baroness Cumberlege and make workforce planning a priority.”

Dr Jennifer Burns, president of the British Geriatrics Society, 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 healthcare.

“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.”

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