Medical unions have condemned figures released by the EU about the number of doctors per head of population as “extremely worrying”. The European Commission ranked EU member countries according to how many practising doctors they had per 1,000 citizens in 2010. In the table of 27 EU nations, the UK came in 24th place, with only Poland, Romania and Slovenia behind us. The European Commission statistics show that here in the UK there are 2.71 practising doctors per 1,000 people.
At the top of the list was Greece, with more than 6 doctors per 1,000 people closely followed by Austria with almost 5 per 1,000 and Italy with just under 4. Critics have attached the figures, claiming that they are concrete proof of a shortage of medical professionals in the UK.
The Health Select Committee warned as recently as last summer that only 20% of accident and emergency departments in England are adequately staffed with doctors of consultant level, and MPs concluded that many A&E departments are working under crisis conditions.
Despite the data showing that the UK ranks low in the table of doctors per person, this figure has actually been on the rise. In 2000, there were 1.9 doctors per 1,000 people in the UK and the average across the EU was 2.9. By 2010 the European average had grown to 3.4, and the rate of growth in the UK’s health service employment has risen more quickly than in other member states.
Although by 2011 the figures had increase a little more, giving a result of 2.8 doctors per 1,000 people, there are significant differences between the countries which make up the UK. Wales fares worst with 2.5 doctors per 1,000 and England and Wales have the same number of doctors at 2.7 per 1,000. Scotland skews the figures slightly, as there are 3.1 doctors per 1,000 people north of the border.
The Department of Health was quick to point out that the actual number of doctors working in the NHS has gone up by 3.5% every year for the past decade. Since the 2010 figures were published, there are 6,600 more doctors working in the NHS. In addition to employing more medical staff, the Department of Health spokesperson pointed out that during the same period, the number of admin and management staff had decreased by almost 23,000.
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