Addressing the Workforce Crisis for the Ageing Population

care staff looking after patient

The NHS, the pride of the United Kingdom, is facing a formidable challenge – a workforce crisis that threatens the quality of care for its citizens. The current shortage of skilled healthcare professionals, coupled with the exhaustion and burnout experienced by existing staff, paints a grim picture of a healthcare system struggling to meet the needs and expectations of the population. As our society ages and the demand for healthcare increases, it is imperative that we take immediate and strategic action to ensure the provision of high-quality care for all.

The consequences of the workforce crisis are evident in the prolonged waiting times for treatment and the subpar care received by patients. This situation is particularly dire for older people, who heavily rely on health and social care services. Delays in access to care and a less-than-optimal care experience have become all too common for this vulnerable group. Urgent measures are required to address these challenges comprehensively and sustainably.

A crucial aspect of resolving the workforce crisis lies in improving the terms and conditions for NHS and social care staff. By making healthcare professions more attractive career options, we can recruit and retain a greater number of skilled professionals at all levels. However, action on terms and conditions must be accompanied by investments in workforce education and development. Equipping our current and future workforce with the necessary skills to care for older people should be a top priority. Geriatricians, in particular, play a vital role in leading multidisciplinary teams and balancing the complex needs of older individuals with frailty and multiple conditions.

Recruiting more healthcare professionals is at the heart of the solution. The British Geriatrics Society (BGS) emphasizes the urgent need for concerted action to train and recruit individuals with the skills required to address the challenges posed by a rapidly ageing population. To highlight the gravity of the situation, the BGS presents an estimate of the number of additional geriatricians needed to meet the demands of an ageing population with increasingly complex needs.

The care for older people is best delivered through multidisciplinary teams, with geriatricians providing crucial leadership. While recruiting more geriatricians is just one part of the broader workforce challenge, it is a vital component of a strategic approach to workforce planning. The BGS’s paper initiates a conversation about the workforce required to deliver high-quality care for the ageing population and sheds light on the barriers currently impeding recruitment efforts.

Undeniably, the challenges faced by the NHS in caring for older people extend beyond the need for more geriatricians. A well-rounded approach necessitates an increase in specialist nurses, allied health professionals, physician associates, and specialist pharmacists, among others. The workforce must be adequately resourced and supported to deliver the care that older people require.

The figures presented in the paper underscore the scale of the problem. According to the Royal College of Physicians’ census, there are currently 1,900 fully trained consultant geriatricians in the UK. However, this number falls short of meeting the demand for specialist services for older people. To achieve a benchmark ratio of one geriatrician per 500 people aged over 85, an additional 1,218 geriatricians are currently required nationwide. By 2030, this figure is projected to rise to 1,846. These estimates are conservative and do not account for specific local challenges or expected retirements.

It is crucial to acknowledge that older people’s healthcare is multidisciplinary. Increasing the number of geriatricians alone will not address the underlying issues. The workforce must be strengthened across all professions to ensure adequate resources and provide comprehensive care for older individuals.

While the estimates provided in the paper focus on doctors due to available workforce data, it is vital to gather data on other healthcare professions. The BGS is committed to working with relevant professional bodies and organizations to develop a comprehensive understanding of the workforce needs for caring for older people.

Addressing the NHS workforce crisis for the ageing population requires a multi-pronged approach. It involves increasing recruitment efforts for geriatricians and other healthcare professionals, improving terms and conditions to attract and retain talent, investing in education and development, and fostering collaboration among multidisciplinary teams.

Additionally, the government must allocate adequate resources to support the recruitment and training of healthcare professionals. This includes funding for medical schools, postgraduate training programs, and continuing professional development initiatives. The government should also explore innovative solutions, such as expanding the role of advanced practice nurses and promoting interdisciplinary collaboration to optimize care delivery.

Furthermore, addressing the workforce crisis goes hand in hand with promoting the well-being and job satisfaction of healthcare professionals. Measures to reduce workload, prevent burnout, and enhance work-life balance are essential to ensure a sustainable workforce and maintain the quality of care. Providing adequate support and resources for staff mental health and well-being should be prioritized.

In conclusion, the workforce crisis facing the NHS in caring for the ageing population demands urgent and strategic action. A comprehensive approach is needed to recruit and retain a skilled and diverse healthcare workforce, with a particular focus on geriatricians and other professionals specializing in older people’s care. By investing in education, improving terms and conditions, and fostering collaboration among multidisciplinary teams, we can ensure the provision of high-quality care for our ageing population. The government, professional bodies, and healthcare organizations must work together to address this crisis and safeguard the health and well-being of older individuals in the United Kingdom.


BGS Report: The case for more geriatricians: Strengthening the workforce to care for an ageing population

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