Doubts hang over pledge for more NHS consultants

The Government has pledged to
increase the number of NHS consultants by 49 per cent over the next nine years.

Health Secretary Alan Milburn
claimed there would be an “unprecedented” increase in training budgets, which
would pay for the rise in the number of consultants from 24,300 to 36,300.

But the plans have been met with scepticism
from the profession, which claims that it represents an annual increase of only
four per cent, in line with growth achieved over the past 10 years.

John Adsett, secretary of the
Association of Healthcare Human Resource Managers, said, “Historically,
consultant numbers have been increasing at between 5 or 6 per cent a year so
that sort of increase would maintain the current rate of expansion.

“The difficulty is in the
specialities. Nationally there are shortages in the number of specialists in
areas such as pathology and radiology. We need to encourage more trainees into
them.”

The annual figures on NHS staffing
released last week also show that the increase in consultant numbers between
1999 and 2000 was 4.7 per cent, but for juniors it was just 1.4 per cent.

Milburn said, “It takes time to
train the new staff we need. There are still problems but, as these figures
show, there is real progress.”

However, consultants’ leaders
questioned whether the increases would be sufficient to create a consultant-led
service.

Dr Mike Goodman, deputy chairman of
the BMA’s Central Consultants and Specialists Committee, said, “Medicine gets
more complicated. It needs more experienced, trained people.”

The Government also set out plans
to increase the number of medical school students by 1,000 and create 1,000
additional registrar posts.

But Adsett said, “We are under
pressure to reduce the number of training places.

“How are we going to train doctors
in the job once they are out of medical school so that we have the numbers that
are required?”

Women moving into top posts

The number of woman consultants has
grown by 8 per cent over the past year but the number of female junior doctors
has been surprisingly static, latest government figures show.

The growth in female consultant
numbers meant a slight increase in the proportion of senior doctors who are
women, up from 21 to 22 per cent. There are now 5,120 female consultants,
compared with 2,420 in 1990.

But the proportion of house officer
posts held by women has fallen from 52 per cent in 1997 to 50 per cent last
year. This is despite the high numbers of female students at medical schools.

There are only 280 female
consultant surgeons.

By Ben Willmott

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