Chronic shortage of rheumatology staff will cripple the nation | Letter

With the number of doctors retiring early trebling in England and Wales (Report, 23 June), this exodus will intensify the crisis that we are already facing in rheumatology. The latest data collected by the British Society for Rheumatology reveals that chronic workforce shortages mean departments lack sufficient staff to provide a safe level of care.

Relocation, reduced hours and retirements are contributing to severe understaffing and high levels of vacancies. More than 10 million people in the UK live with arthritis and that’s just one of the 200 conditions we work with in rheumatology. Prompt treatment is vital to avoid long-term disability.

Yet some patients, such as those in Northern Ireland, can wait six years for their first referral. In Scotland, there are seven unfilled consultant posts and an additional five pending retirements are expected by 2025. Retirements are also high among nurses with one in four departments reporting specialist nurses stopping work. This is the picture across the UK; teams are struggling to keep afloat.

To keep people well and out of hospital, we desperately need more specialty training posts to address high consultant vacancy rates in rheumatology. It has to be a whole system approach. We need long-term, sustainable workforce planning in the NHS, and we need the UK parliament to act now before this crisis cripples our nation.
Dr Sanjeev Patel
President, British Society for Rheumatology

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