The NHS faces a mass exodus of doctors after the coronavirus pandemic, a survey warned today.
Half said they plan to work fewer hours, almost one in three said they plan to retire early and a quarter are weighing up taking a career break.
The British Medical Association survey of more than 5,500 medics also found a fifth are considering quitting the NHS entirely to pursue a different career.
Many complained they were not able to take proper breaks at work because they were so busy, either treating Covid patients directly or dealing with the huge waiting lists triggered by the crisis.
While workload was the biggest reason for wanting to leave, others included long hours, unpleasant working environments and lack of pay.
The BMA’s chairman, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, warned the results were ‘deeply worrying’ at a time when the NHS needs all hands on deck.
Hospitals were the busiest they’ve ever been over winter when the second wave of the pandemic resulted in more than 30,000 Covid patients being hospitalised at once, which led to routine operations being put on hold.
Now that the crisis has all but subsided – with just 1,600 virus inpatients currently – the health service is tackling record waiting lists caused by the Covid backlog.
Up to half of NHS doctors are planning to work fewer hours once the Covid pandemic is over, a poll by the British Medical Association has revealed. (Stock)
The BMA’s survey found 31.9 per cent said they were considering retiring – more than double the 14 per cent who said the same in June 2020.
Another 25 per cent said they are ‘more likely’ to take a career break, with a further 21 per cent considering leaving the NHS altogether for another career. Half said they were more likely to reduce their hours.
NHS WAITING LIST HITS A RECORD HIGH AT 4.7MILLION
The number of patients waiting for appointments has hit another record high in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
NHS England statistics showed more than 4.7million patients were waiting for treatment in February, the latest period available.
And there were more than 400,000 people waiting for surgery.
The proportion of cancer patients who hadn’t been treated within the two month target also jumped to a record 30.3 per cent.
Medics said the numbers laid bare the true toll of the pandemic on hospitals, which were forced to turf out patients with other illnesses during the national lockdowns.
And cancer charities described Covid as being ‘catastrophic’ for those suffering from the condition.
Boris Johnson has promised to get the NHS ‘all the funding it needs’ to fight the Covid backlog.
He said: ‘We do need people to take up their appointments and to get the treatment that they need.
‘We’re going to make sure that we give the NHS all the funding that it needs, as we have done throughout the pandemic, to beat the backlog.’
Many pointed to their inability to get a lunch hour as a reason for leaving, with 40 per cent saying they had nowhere at work to safely relax with colleagues.
The main reasons for wanting to leave or reduce hours were workload (45 per cent), personal wellbeing (43 per cent), pay (29 per cent), working conditions (22 per cent) and the culture in their workplace (22 per cent).
An acute specialty doctor who outlined their workload told the BMA: ‘My own mental and physical health will have to become a priority at some point.’
The doctor, who was not named, added: ‘A ‘break’ on shift means I try to grab 10 minutes in my office to down a cup of tea and catch up on some of the hundreds of emails I need to read before inevitably being called back out.
‘My usual finish time on these shifts is around two hours after I’m rostered to leave. I spend my rest days catching up on the rest of the emails I don’t have time to deal with at work. It’s exhausting.
‘I’ve started exploring career opportunities outside of the NHS. I don’t know yet if I’ll leave clinical medicine, but I’m seriously considering it. If the right opportunity presents itself I’ll go for it.
‘It’s a tough thing to consider, I love the NHS but I know I can’t keep this pace up indefinitely.’
Dr Nagpaul said the results showed doctors and other healthcare professionals need space and time to rest and recuperate, especially as they face a backlog of millions of patients.
He added that the situation must be solved to stop the departure of ‘talented, experienced professionals who the NHS needs more than ever to pull this country out of a once-in-a-generation health crisis’.
According to data from NHS England, the number of patients waiting more than 52 weeks to start their hospital treatment stood at 387,885 in February 2021 – the highest number for any calendar month since December 2007.
In February 2020, the number of people having to wait more than 52 weeks to start treatment stood at just 1,613.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: ‘This Government is committed to supporting the NHS and its staff in the fight against Covid and beyond.
‘There are record numbers of doctors, nurses and NHS staff – over 1.18m – and there are now more medical students in training than at any point in NHS history.
‘We are backing our NHS with an extra £7billion for health and care services this year, bringing our total additional Covid-19 investment to £92billion, including £1billion to support NHS recovery by tackling waiting lists.’