Staff in the Welsh NHS could “leave in their droves” unless an urgent recruitment and retention strategy is created by the Welsh Government.

BMA Cymru Wales, as part of a new report, said the medical workforce needs to be expanded and existing staff retrained if it is to deal with the huge waiting list backlog caused by the pandemic.

A survey by the union found that more than half of doctors who responded are planning to retire early, and over a quarter are planning to reduce their hours within the next 12 months.

A number of actions have been outlined by the BMA which “begin to address the threat” of doctors leaving the profession or reducing their hours which include:

Making it easier for staff to join the workforce or return to clinical practice including retired doctors, refugee doctors and international medical graduates; Assuring doctors that they will not be penalised with large tax bills if they take on additional work to support the backlog or return to work after retirement; The opportunity for doctors to rest and recuperate from the exhaustion of working through the pandemic.

As well as calling for measures to expand the workforce and retain existing staff, the report sets out further recommendations to all governments across the UK to ensure that services resume safely for both staff and patients:

These include:

All governments and system leaders across the UK to have an honest conversation with the public about the need for a realistic approach to restoring non-Covid care, and support for systems to tackle the backlog. Health, safety, and mental wellbeing of the workforce to remain a top priority. Additional resourcing to help tackle the backlog. Measures to expand system capacity.

Dr David Bailey, chairman of the British Medical Associaiton’s (BMA) Welsh Council
(Image: BMA Cymru)

Dr David Bailey, BMA Cymru Wales council chairman, said: “It’s clear that the backlog has to be reduced, and our survey figures present a stark warning which cannot be ignored. Urgent action must be taken to address the fact that half of doctors responding to our latest survey are planning to retire early and over a quarter are planning to reduce their hours.

“Without an increase in capacity and a clearer focus on retention, the waiting list will continue to grow and the NHS won’t be able to return to pre-Covid levels – we will see doctors leaving in droves.

“The scale of this challenge must not be underestimated. Despite everything that the last year has thrown at them, doctors remain committed to caring for patients, but they must receive support in order to be able to provide safe care.”

In response a Welsh Government spokeswoman said: “The commitment and tireless hard work from NHS staff in Wales has been truly remarkable and we fully recognise the pressures they are experiencing.

“Workforce supply and recruitment is, and will continue to be, a priority for the Welsh Government. This year, we are investing record levels in training and professional education – £227m – and there are more training places available than ever before. Our international campaign Train Work Live has helped to attract more healthcare staff to Wales.”

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Referral to Treatment (RTT) waiting time statistics in Wales published this week show there were 221,849 patients waiting more than nine months (36 weeks) to start hospital treatment in January 2021. This compares to 27,314 patients who were waiting more than nine months in January 2020.

The figures also revealed that there are more than half a million (541,702) patients waiting for NHS treatment in Wales.

The Welsh Government spokeswoman added: “NHS performance and waiting times continue to be severely affected by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“Despite this unprecedented pressure – combined with the normal winter pressures experienced at this time of year – our hardworking health and care staff continue to deliver high-quality care for the public.

“We have made an extra £30m available this year to support urgent and emergency care services and increase resilience over the remainder of this financial year.

“Next week, the Health Minister will set-out how the NHS will meet the challenge of recovering from the pandemic.

“We continue to ask for everyone’s help to control the spread of this awful virus – please stay local and follow all the basic steps to keep you and your family safe as we take the first steps out of lockdown.

“If you need medical help in an emergency please do not put it off – call 999. If you have a health problem, contact your GP practice for advice.”

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