Is there a doctor in the house?

Averting a post-pandemic staffing crisis in the NHS

  • Shortages of PPE and ventilators have overshadowed shortages of doctors during the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet when normality returns and the NHS is swamped by a backlog of cases, the latter could be thrust to the forefront of public debate.

  • The UK ranks 27th out of 36 OECD countries for number of physicians. Around 30 per cent of doctors on the GP and specialist registers are over 55 years old.

  • The UK relies more heavily on foreign-trained physicians than comparable countries. Yet within a decade it could become increasingly difficult to meet demand this way: there could be a deficit of 400,000 doctors by 2030 between 32 OECD countries.

  • Doctor shortages disproportionately affect a handful of specialist fields. The NHS in England entered the Covid-19 crisis with a 17 per cent shortfall of emergency medicine consultants and a 9 per cent shortfall of respiratory medicine consultants.

  • Starving some specialties of personnel could leave the nation’s health vulnerable to future crises that disproportionately demand the expertise of consultants from one or two fields of medicine. A perfect storm could be forming around the NHS, as the fallout from the pandemic threatens to increase the demand for health services at the same time as reducing the resources available to fund it. Efficiency savings are arguably more urgent than ever.

  • This paper suggests that a cost-effective solution to doctor shortages could be to scrap laws that prevent suitably trained non-medics from filling workforce gaps.

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Mark Tovey is a freelance researcher who focuses on health issues. He graduated in 2016 with a first-class degree in economics from the University of Sussex. He is the co-author of two discussion papers for the Institute of Economic Affairs on the net cost to taxpayers of smoking and obesity. While interning at the Institute for Employment Studies in 2017, he was acknowledged for his contribution to that year’s Royal College of Nursing Employment Survey. Most recently, he authored a Freedom of Information-based survey for FOREST on vaping and smoking policies in NHS hospitals. He has written articles for The Spectator, Conservative Home and Mises Wire.