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Warning over military doctor shortage

17th July 2009

The British military’s medical arm is under strain because of a severe shortage of doctors.

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With a third of the 768 doctor posts in the armed forces currently unfilled, the British Medical Association is concerned that doctors in such posts are risking burn-out because they are having to return to the front line too quickly.

The worst shortages are in critical areas such as anaesthetics.

A military doctor divides their time between NHS work and deployments but more recently those postings have come every six months rather than every 12-18 months.

They include working in field hospitals, in frontline locations in Afghanistan and based on warships.

Figures show that the Ministry of Defence has 528 trained doctors but of the 95 anaesthetists needed only 53 were in post with none of the three neurosurgery posts filled.

One in 10 nurse posts are unfilled but that rises to half of the emergency care and intensive therapy nursing positions unfilled.

Chairman of the BMA's armed forces committee Dr Brendan McKeating said the shortfall was a long-standing problem and that pay for military doctors fell short of NHS doctors.

"We believe military doctors should be getting more to reflect the dangerous and unpredictable nature of the job,” he said.

"But it is not just about pay. We are also in the situation where doctors are being sent to the front-line more frequently to fill gaps. Morale is suffering."

The Ministry of Defence admitted there were problems, but said it was trying to improve recruitment and retention.

 

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