Without an Increase in Anaesthetic Training Places NHS Funding Will Have Little Impact on Recovery

RCoA calling for an additional 100 trainee anaesthetists per year

Ahead of the Spending Review and following the government announcement that it will be investing £5.9 billion to help tackle the elective care backlog and expand diagnostic services, the Royal College of Anaesthetists is warning that attempts to expand capacity to treat patients will ultimately fail without the workforce to deliver on this.

Most surgery cannot take place without an anaesthetist – but there is a UK wide shortfall of 1,400 anaesthetists and one million operations are already delayed each year because of this. Unless anaesthetist numbers increase, it is difficult to see how more surgery can take place or how the backlog can be brought down. It is therefore vital that the government commits to investing in anaesthetic training places, The College is asking for an increase in higher anaesthetic training places by 100 per year for at least the next four years. While even more are needed, this is the number that the College believes is achievable in the short term.

Anaesthetists have been at the heart of the NHS’s response to the pandemic, with many trainees taking on the brunt of the work, often at considerable cost to their training and personal lives. More medical students and newly qualified doctors want to become anaesthetists than training places are available while anaesthetic departments are struggling to meet increasing demand. Unsustainable workloads and lack of support to stay in work are also causing anaesthetists of all grades to leave the profession, increasing the workforce gap further.

Dr Fiona Donald, President of the Royal College of Anaesthetists, said:

“While the Royal College of Anaesthetists welcomes the government’s investment in the NHS, any attempt to build back a healthcare service must be based around increasing the workforce, not simply trying to treat more patients. We do not have the capacity to do one without the other, and any attempt to do so will ultimately fail.     

“Anaesthetists have worked incredibly hard during the pandemic and will be the ones picking up the pieces in the aftermath. Investing in extra training places could go a long way not only to containing costs, but to providing additional capacity, with senior trainees able to contribute to reducing waiting lists.

“It is important that we not only look at what these extra places can deliver now, but also the benefit for the future sustainability of the NHS. The more training places we have, the more anaesthetists there will be rising up the ranks and becoming our future consultants. We want to be able to deliver the best possible care for patients now and in the future.”

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