UK: Take 5 minutes to fix workforce woes

Respiratory health is hurtling towards a workforce shortfall but respiratory physicians can help by spending five minutes talking to a student or junior doctor about respiratory medicine as a career.

Speaking to the limbic, Chair of the British Thoracic Society’s specialty trainee advisory group Dr Charlotte Addy said more people were living longer with respiratory disease, and as a direct consequence more staff were needed meet the “sheer burden” of patient need.

She said with initiatives like the “Find Five Minutes” campaign the BTS hoped to inspire medical students and junior doctors to join the specialty.

“The real reasons people choose a specialty is due to people they work with – they inspire them or they think, that’s what I want to do. If we could all find five minutes to inspire one junior and tell them about what we do and why we do respiratory, that’s as effective as a big campaign. Just answering people’s questions,” said Dr Addy who is a clinical research fellow at Queens University in Belfast.

She said the profession needed to emphasise the variety of workload across acute and community care, the variety of sub-specialties and opportunities for multi-disciplinary working in teams with “fantastic” specialist nurses and physiotherapists.

Junior doctors who saw only the acute presentations might get the impression that “there’s too much phelgm and sputum,” she joked.

The BTS monitors workforce issues on an annual basis, surveying respiratory leads in 199 institutions around the country. In 2016, the last year for which figures are available, the survey found that 58 institutions had vacant consultant posts.

Of the 103 hospitals which said they had advertised a consultant post, 58 encountered recruitment problems:

  • 32 had no applicants at all
  • 26 said no-one was appointed, because of no suitable candidates or other issues.

As well as a lack of suitable candidates – especially in sub-specialties – some hospitals had to delay recruitment because of financial pressures.

Dr Addy said the workforce figures “ebb and flow” because of the time it takes to train a doctor to specialist respiratory consultant status. She said specialty training posts in 2017 were filled, indicating that juniors were coming through to join the specialty.

However, she said more recruits would be needed in future to meet the growing need.

“We have a lot of patients needing a large amount of care and as they live longer, perhaps people with more severe disease, we are still able to manage them effectively. We need to see them more often and they need more services.”

The BTS ran a respiratory careers session at its Winter Meeting for the first time last year, and plans another session at the Summer Meeting, she said. More information is available from the BTS website,

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