Two thirds of unfilled consultant posts have no applicants, shows census

Authors: Abi Rimmer 

Publication date:  27 Jul 2017

The proportion of unfilled consultant vacancies that are due to a lack of applicants has doubled in eight years, reaching 65% in 2016, a census has found.

The survey,[1] conducted on behalf of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, and the Royal College of Physicians, was sent to all UK consultants and higher specialty trainees on 30 September 2016.

It found that 45% of advertised consultant posts in 2016 were not filled, and 65% of these cases had no applicants. The proportion of unfilled posts due to a lack of applicants has increased from 32% in 2008 to 39% in 2011 and to 65% in 2016, the census found.

Data from NHS Digital have shown that trusts are increasing their recruitment efforts to fill medical vacancies, posting 8% more advertisements for medical jobs on the NHS Jobs website in 2016-17 than in the previous year.[2]

The census found the largest number of advertised posts in the West Midlands (177; 11% of all advertised posts), which also had the largest number of unfilled vacancies at 74. Over the past five years the West Midlands, the north west, and Kent, Surrey, and Sussex have consistently advertised the most consultant posts, the census found, but they have also reported the largest number of posts that were not filled.

To have enough consultants to meet requirements more trainees are needed in regions that fail to fill over half of posts, said the census report, as trainees apply for jobs in the region in which they are working.

The census also found that 24% of consultants thought that trainee rota gaps occurred “frequently” or “often.” Of these, 22% said that the gaps had a significant effect on patient safety, 75% said that they could potentially cause problems “but [they] have a workaround solution,” and 1% said that they caused other problems. Only 2% of consultants reported that trainee rota gaps had no impact on patient safety.

Among trainees, 40% said that they were aware of gaps in other trainee rotas “frequently,” 26% “often,” and 18% “infrequently/never.” The remainder said that the question was not applicable to them.

Where trainees identified gaps “frequently” or “often,” 28% said that these caused significant problems in patient safety, and 67% reported that they could potentially cause problems.


  1. Royal College of Physicians. 2016-17 census (UK consultants and higher specialty trainees). July 2017. [Link] .
  2. Moberly T. Advertisements for medical vacancies increase by 8% in a year. BMJ  2017;358:j3610 [Link] .

Abi Rimmer BMJ Careers

Cite this as BMJ Careers ; doi: