All three of the Armed Forces services are suffering from critical personnel shortages, according to a new report by the House of Commons defence select committee.
The committee found the situation especially acute in specialist trades, including aircrew and medical personnel.
Ministry of Defence (MoD) statistics show that as of July 2005, the Armed Forces had 31% fewer GPs than it needed and were also suffering deficits in anaesthetics, general medicine, surgery, accident and emergency, and psychiatry.
Overall the MoD only met three of its seven Public Service Agreement (PSA) targets in 2004-05, with recruitment and retention levels only partially met.
The PSA target for recruitment and retention was missed because manning levels in the Royal Navy and the Marines were 5% short of the overall requirement.
The Army also fell short in recruitment but was at 98% of its required capacity, while the Air Force exceeded its recruitment requirements by taking on 101% of total requirements.
Army research presented to the committee has found that it is becoming more difficult to recruit because of parental disapproval of the Army as a career.
Attempts to recruit a more diverse workforce had also met with mixed success.
The number of ethnic minority personnel increased to 5.1% in April 2005 against a target of 6% by the end of April 2006.
The report notes that both the Navy and the RAF failed to meet their targets for recruiting from ethnic minorities, while the MoD as a whole was “significantly below” its targets relating to women, ethnic minorities and disabled personnel.
Committee chairman, MP James Arbuthnot, said he was concerned that the Armed Forces were overstretched and that personnel were not getting enough time off between tours of duty.
“Short-term breaches [of time between tours to recuperate between actions] can be managed, but the MoD must tackle the underlying causes as long-term overstretch will impact on operational effectiveness,” he said. “All three services are suffering worrying personnel shortages in key areas.”