More geriatricians needed to meet the needs of the UK’s ageing population

24 May 2023

The British Geriatrics Society today launches a new report, The case for more geriatricians: Strengthening the workforce to care for an ageing population. Geriatricians are specialists in healthcare for older people. While many professions are involved in the care of older people, geriatricians provide leadership of geriatric medicine services, particularly focusing on those patients with frailty and complex long-term conditions.

This publication reveals significant variation across the UK in the number of geriatricians available to care for older people. The report indicates that while there are 282 geriatricians for approximately every million people over the age of 65 years old in London, there are only 96 for a similar population in the East Midlands. This means that there are parts of the country where the lack of geriatricians results in older people waiting longer to receive a level of care that is inferior to what they would expect and to what their clinicians would wish to provide.

It is commonly accepted that there is a major workforce shortage within the NHS. A key part of the solution must be to increase recruitment. In particular, there are not enough skilled healthcare professionals to respond to the needs of older people, who are the most frequent and numerous users of health services.  This report puts a number on how many more geriatricians are required in the NHS to meet the increasingly complex needs of an ageing population.  The BGS is calling for a UK-wide target of one consultant geriatrician per 500 people aged 85 and over to be used as the basis of consultant workforce and training projections. The figures in the report, derived from the Royal College of Physicians Census published in 2022, show how many new geriatrician posts would be needed to bring all regions up to this national benchmark by 2030.

The BGS report outlines some of the barriers affecting recruitment in the UK, such as current limitations on medical school places and training numbers. It makes six calls for Governments across the UK to address in terms of workforce planning and investment, in order to achieve the increase in geriatricians so urgently needed.

While recruiting geriatricians will play a key role in addressing the workforce crisis, this must go alongside increased investment in the wider multidisciplinary team and upskilling the entire workforce to care for older people with frailty.

As the number of people with frailty and long-term conditions increases, the BGS calls on the Government to plan ahead for an ageing population. We urge them to take action to boost numbers over the next ten years and to address regional disparities in the deployment of geriatricians. This must be part of a workforce strategy that not only considers recruitment, but also investment in the retention, development and support of NHS staff. The report calls for the wider NHS to be adequately resourced to provide high-quality care for all people in the UK, when and where they need it.

Professor Adam Gordon, President of the British Geriatrics Society, commented:

“Despite staff working flat out, the NHS is now providing the worst care for older people since metrics began. A major limitation is that in many parts of the country there is a shortage of professionals who specialise in care of older people.  This means that we struggle to deliver both existing services and the new models of care needed to make things better. If we fix the NHS for older people, we fix it for everyone. The BGS calls on the government, NHS, education providers and health service leaders to urgently act to recruit and train more geriatricians. This is a matter of existential importance for our health service.”

Dr Amit Arora, Vice President for Workforce of the BGS, commented:

“How a country looks after its older people is a measure of societal attitudes. Getting the care of older people right holds the key to many of the capacity challenges currently facing the NHS. This report will help to initiate the necessary conversations to support recruitment, retention, development and support for a multidisciplinary workforce caring for older people. This starts with recruiting the geriatrician numbers that we need, to maintain and lead further developments in the care of our ageing population. Older people deserve no less. The opportunity is huge and the time is now.”

Dr Sarah Logan, Director of the Medical Workforce Unit, Royal College of Physicians, commented:

"For years the RCP has been calling for a long term workforce plan for the NHS that is underpinned by data about supply and demand. Our specialty societies understand better than anyone else the challenges facing their workforce, with this report adding to the critical conversation about how we expand the NHS workforce to meet the needs of patients."