FICM response to Health and Social Care Committee’s report

The Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine and The Royal College of Anaesthetists welcome the report from the Health and Social Care Committee’s Expert Panel into the health and care workforce. 

The report exposes the magnitude of the long-term staffing shortages facing the NHS, and reinforces sustained calls for adequate workforce planning, increased training capacity, and measures to boost staff retention. Furthermore, the report recognises that a combination of staff shortages and high workload are undermining workforce wellbeing, and punitive pension taxation is forcing senior doctors to reduce their working hours. 

The UK’s critical care bed capacity is among the lowest in Europe, further hampering efforts to reduce our patients’ wait for the most complex operations, including cancer care. In addition, the report recognises the need for training in perioperative care, in order to reduce complications, improve efficiency and prevent short notice cancellations of procedures. 

The pandemic has brought into sharp focus pre-existing inequalities in critical care provision across the UK. A serious approach to tackling unfairness must include properly addressing the workforce solutions that we know will attract and retain staff working in critical care.

Dr Alison Pittard, Dean, Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine

The vast majority of operations carried out in the NHS requires an anaesthetist. There is currently a shortage of around 1,400 anaesthetists, which in turn prevents around 1 million patients from getting the operation they need every year. This shortage is set to increase to 11,000 without urgent action, preventing around 8 million operations taking place.  

We at FICM and the RCoA would like to see the following implemented urgently by the new administration:  

  • Strategic workforce planning, including investment in Critical Care beds, and adequate training places for anaesthesia and intensive care medicine.  

  • Renewed efforts to tackle unsustainable workload and improved wellbeing of staff.  

  • Action to enable our senior doctors to work the hours required of them without suffering pension penalties. 

  • Implement commitments laid out in the elective recovery plan on perioperative care.  

This report is a wakeup call. The NHS workforce is under unprecedented strain and, unless urgent action is taken, the problem will only get worse.  The time to act is now. The Government needs to fund more training places, address unsustainable workloads, and tackle the factors that undermine staff retention such as pension taxation. It must also embed perioperative care practices to reduce avoidable on-the-day cancellations and surgical complications.

Dr Fiona Donald, President, RCoA