BMA urges more career flexibility to fight workforce crisis

Authors: Abi Rimmer 

Publication date:  21 Sep 2017

Doctors’ career flexibility must be increased, such as more options to work part time, and their health and wellbeing services improved to stop the staff shortage worsening, the BMA has said in a new briefing on the state of medical recruitment.[1]

To tackle what it described as a workforce crisis in medicine, the BMA also said that after Brexit the immigration system should enable the UK to recruit and retain the numbers of doctors it required if it couldn’t find enough in the country.

The BMA has gathered figures showing that nearly three quarters of medical specialties had unfilled training posts in 2016.

It said that besides the well documented workforce shortages in areas such as general practice and emergency medicine, many other specialties were also unable to recruit enough trainees. For example, 39% of training posts in genitourinary medicine were unfilled in 2016, as were 37% of training places in rheumatology.

The BMA also found that the number of applications to UK medical schools had decreased by more than 13% since 2013. While in 2013 22 130 students applied to study medicine in the UK, by 2017 the figure had fallen to 19 210.

In addition, fewer trainees were applying to the UK foundation programme, the BMA said. Between 2013 and 2016 applications to the programme fell by 5%, it said, from 7537 to 7157.

To protect against an increasing shortage of doctors the BMA said that the profession needed more opportunities for flexible careers. Doctors needed affordable childcare that was available in unsocial hours, and the government needed to ensure that fathers were encouraged to take shared parental leave, it said.

The association called for greater flexibility in part time medical roles and for trainees to be given more ability to take time out of their training.

Health and wellbeing services for doctors also need to be improved, the BMA said, and the NHS should provide a fully functional and resourced occupational health service for all staff.

To maintain doctor numbers, the association said that the government should give permanent residence to all European Union doctors and their families currently living and working in the UK. Any future immigration system must be flexible enough to allow for recruitment of overseas doctors where the NHS could not fill posts with qualified UK nationals, the BMA said.

Chaand Nagpaul, the BMA’s chair of council, warned that if the government didn’t get to grips with the workforce crisis the NHS would struggle to attract and retain highly trained staff and care of patients would suffer as a result.

“Ignoring this staffing crisis creates a vicious circle, compounding existing problems and adding to pressure on existing staff, making them more likely to leave,” he said.


  1. BMA. State of medical recruitment. Sep 2017. [Link] .

Abi Rimmer The BMJ

Cite this as BMJ Careers ; doi: