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At the end of March, the Royal College of Ophthalmologists published the results of its 2022 workforce census which highlighted the extent to which there are NHS staff shortages in NHS ophthalmology services. It surmised that it will worsen should immediate action not be taken.
“These findings paint a stark picture of the difficult challenges facing ophthalmology services across the UK. Despite continuing innovation in how we plan and deliver patient care, our ability to provide timely treatment is becoming ever more difficult given workforce shortages and long backlogs." - Professor Bernard Chang, President of The Royal College of Ophthalmologists.
1. The vast majority of NHS ophthalmology services are facing significant capacity pressures, with over three quarters (76%) of units not having enough consultants to meet current patient demand and over half (52%) finding it more difficult to recruit consultants over the last 12 months
2. To keep up with patient demand, NHS eye units are increasingly relying on locums to cover gaps in their service. Two thirds (65%) are using locums to fill consultant vacancies. This reliance on locums is often not short-term, with a majority of eye units (57%) using locums to fill posts for longer than 12 months
3. These staff shortages are hitting patient backlogs across the UK. In January 2023, there were over 632,000 patients on ophthalmology waiting lists in England alone – 24,000 of whom were waiting over a year. 74% of eye units are more concerned about the impact of outpatient backlogs on patient care than they were 12 months ago and 63% estimate it will take at least a year to clear their outpatient backlogs
4. Workforce shortages in NHS eyecare services are set to worsen, with a quarter (26%) of consultants in the UK planning to leave the workforce over the next five years (the majority retiring), while 28% plan to work in independent sector providers – up from just 16% of the workforce currently
5. Amid the growing role played by independent sector providers delivering NHS-funded ophthalmology procedures, a majority of eye units (58%) say these providers are having a negative impact on patient care and ophthalmology services in their area.