Patient Safety at Risk As Doctors Find Themselves Under Increasing Pressure

In Industry News by PCH Staff

Shoe-string budgets, staff shortages and low morale are placing increasing pressure on the NHS, with three quarters (74%) of physicians saying they will not be able to deliver safe patient care in the next 12 months, according to a survey by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP).

Released to coincide with the RCP’s annual conference in Manchester, the report highlights how doctors feel about their experiences of delivering healthcare, with one commenting that it was like being “on the Titanic”.

When asked about their experiences of care over the past 12 months, 78% of the 2,100 RCP respondents said demand for their service was rising, while 37% said the quality of care had fallen.

More than half (55%) of the doctors surveyed said patient safety had deteriorated in the last year and 82% believed the workforce was demoralised.

In comments included in the RCP report, doctors said they were “firefighting”, “papering over the cracks” and “hanging on by their claws”. Another comment read: “55 escalation beds in operation today with no extra medical or nursing staff. Completely unsafe”.

The RCP report is the latest in a range of studies that have found that frontline care is desperately understaffed, underfunded and sinking under enormous pressure from an increase in demand for services.

Doctors ‘no longer optimistic’

In a speech at the RCP’s annual conference, RCP president Professor Jane Dacre said: “I am sure these figures will not come as a surprise to anyone in the room. The physicians I know, and I include myself, are optimistic, positive, can-do people who produce work round solutions to intransigent problems.

“However, they are being pushed to their limits and no longer are optimistic about the future.”

She added that not enough doctors are being trained in the UK and staffing gaps are placing hospital teams under increasing pressure. She urged for training numbers to be sufficient to satisfy the demand for doctors across all parts of the medical workforce, from “GPs to physicians”.

The RCP report also raised major concerns regarding awareness of the freedom to speak up whistleblowing guardian at NHS trusts. Only one in five doctors actually knew who their guardian was.

Of those who did know, less than a third believed the guardians have had appositive impact on the culture of transparency and raising concerns in their organisation, while less than half (47%) said doctors were confidently speaking out as a result of the guardian scheme.

A separate snapshot survey undertaken in January this year highlighted an underlying shortage of staff and rota gaps.

Just over half (52%) of respondents said their department had a current vacancy. Of those 52%, 43% had one vacancy; 31% had two vacancies; and 25% had three or more vacancies.

RCP director of medical workforce Dr Harriet Gordon said: “Workforce vacancies have become normal for some years now and given the trainee vacancies, are likely to continue. Consultants are delivering patient care, but at the expense of other aspects of their role like management and training the next generation of doctors.”

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