Despite additional funding, workforce shortages will limit the recovery of the NHS

Published: 09/09/2021

The current shortage of 1,400 anaesthetists across the UK could mean that more than one million surgical procedures will need to be delayed every year

Urgent investment is required in higher anaesthetic training places to fill workforce gaps

Responding to the government’s announcements of additional funding to support the elective backlog recovery and the reforming of health and social care, Professor Ravi Mahajan, President of the Royal College of Anaesthetists said: “While this financial investment and reform is a very welcome start, the greatest shortage faced by our national health and social care services is that of trained staff. Even before COVID, data showed that one million surgical procedures would need to be delayed every year unless anaesthetic workforce numbers are increased to meet patient demand1.

“While the government’s plans2 set an ambitious course for the NHS and social care over the next three years, investment in facilities and reforms alone will not reduce the backlog. With 90% of NHS hospitals across the UK having consultant vacancies3, we have been warning about the downward trend in anaesthetic workforce capacity for some time. Without a well-staffed and healthy anaesthetic workforce, the NHS will struggle to address the COVID surgical backlog and meet the long-term expected increase in patient demand.

“This is why we are calling on the government to deliver an immediate increase in funded higher anaesthetic training posts to expand the anaesthetic workforce.

“This year, hundreds of anaesthetists in training were left without a funded higher anaesthetic training post. This is at a time when the NHS needs as many anaesthetists as possible to be in post and working across hospitals delivering the care to which they have dedicated their careers.

“We are pleased to see the government’s funding proposals for health and social care services, but the success of this plan lies in the government’s ability to staff these critical and much-loved public services adequately.

Investment in the anaesthetic workforce will also support the ambitions of the NHS Long Term Plan and the devolved nation equivalents for a health and social care service fit for the 21st century.”


  1. Medical Workforce Census Report 2020
  2. Record £36 billion investment to reform NHS and Social Care
  3. Medical Workforce Census Report 2020