More than half of trainees (56 per cent) working for the NHS are considering only working part-time hours, according to figures released by a royal college.

A fifth of doctors already work part-time and this trend looks likely to increase in popularity, according to a survey from the Royal College of Physicians (RCP).

It also revealed that more than a quarter of senior consultant physicians are expected to retire in the next three years, with many expected to depart in the next 18 months.

The findings have caused alarm that an already substantial NHS staffing crisis is only going to worsen as the UK moves into a post-Covid-19 world.

The data comes from an RCP poll of 1,523 medics commissioned to celebrate the 73rd birthday of the NHS.

Virtual triage and consultations

More than 60 per cent – rising to 72 per cent for trainees – of respondents said they want opportunities for remote IT access, online meetings and remote working in the future.

Remote working has been a huge success during the Covid-19 pandemic, with virtual triage and consultations speeding up treatments and helping to reduce wait times, while also reducing the number of unnecessary in-person interactions.

One example is abortions, where legislation introduced in April 2020 as a result of the pandemic allowed women to take both doses of their medication at home, instead in a clinic.

They were also able to have both their consultations done remotely and, as a result, more abortions were conducted quicker than at any point since records began.

“If a majority of trainees coming into the system are keen to work part-time, we need to find a way to make that happen to keep attracting people into the profession and retaining them,” said Andrew Goddard, president of the RCP.

“The NHS has recognised that and wants to offer flexible working – but it is stuck in a true Catch-22 situation where it cannot do the very thing needed to attract more staff because it doesn’t have enough staff at the moment.”

NHS bosses have also used the anniversary to address the increasing shortage of staff.

Should right to work from home be law

An open letter was penned by the country’s most senior health professionals, including the chief nursing officer, Ruth May, Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director, and Suzanne Rastrick, the NHS’s chief allied health professions officer.

“With the pandemic response entering the recovery phase and as we tackle new challenges like long Covid, the NHS is looking for more talented and committed staff who will go the extra mile for patients and their families,” it reads.

“As the NHS marks its 73rd birthday, we are asking young people wondering what path to take, and anyone thinking about a career change, to consider joining us.”

Homeworkers are working flexibly, by starting work later and taking longer breaks than those who work away from home.

However, low pay is viewed as a significant barrier in allowing the health service to meet this demand.

Unite, which has 100,000 members in the health service, has said the one per cent pay rise for healthcare workers is insufficient and should be increased.

Last week, senior medics at the British Medical Association said they would consider taking industrial action if the figure was not increased to around four per cent.

This echoes the severe discontent of the Royal College of Nursing, which is said to be considering strike action. The RCN had asked for a 12.5 per cent pay rise for nurses.

“The NHS has an estimated 100,000 vacancies, including 40,000 nursing posts – and one way to tackle this ever-growing problem is to substantially boost the pay of NHS staff,” said Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, Unite national officer for health.

Andy Murray: NHS staff pay rise ‘pathetic’

“If the new Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid is unable to obtain a lot more cash from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury Stephen Barclay for the health service, the NHS will be a pale shadow of the great Covid-fighting health service we know and love in five years’ time.”

Andrew Goddard, president of the RCP, said: “If we do not address this problem [of staff shortages], we will have much less to celebrate in future.”

The RCP said medical school places need to be doubled to avoid medical staff shortages worsening in the future.

Meanwhile, there needs to be increased funding for social care and action to address health inequalities to reduce demands on the NHS, it said.