Three UK royal colleges of physicians come together to launch renewed call for action in Northern Ireland

The three UK royal colleges of physicians – the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, The Royal College of Physicians of London and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow – have today launched Talking with trainees.

On 1 March 2023, the three presidents of the UK royal colleges of physicians met with trainee doctors to hear about the reality of working in the Northern Ireland health and social care system. Now the royal colleges have published a new joint briefing paper with three key priorities: 

1. Retention of the current workforce: HSCNI should focus on improving staff wellbeing and keeping people in the workforce alongside expanding medical school places and recruiting staff from outside Northern Ireland.

2. Implementation of existing strategies: HSCNI should show leadership by implementing existing transformation strategies and regional working plans. Everyone should work together towards solutions.

3. Share best practice and knowledge: Improving communication and building networks would inform a more positive message about Northern Ireland and would encourage more people to join the HSCNI workforce.            

With more than a quarter of higher specialty trainee physicians in Northern Ireland saying they almost never feel in control of their workload, two in five saying they feel emotionally drained at work almost all or most of the time, over half saying they work excessive hours and have an excessive workload, and three-quarters of them saying there are daily or weekly rota gaps in their hospital, we need to act fast to keep them in the health service.

These doctors-in-training are working under intense pressure in hospitals across Northern Ireland, often bearing the brunt of the crisis in acute and emergency care, treating hundreds of patients every week, all while studying for professional exams based on a very demanding curriculum.

Yesterday’s Stormont budget for 2023–24, published by the Northern Ireland secretary, Chris Heaton Harris saw the health budget effectively frozen at £7.3 billion. The department of health says there will be a ‘material impact’ on health services, with ‘significant financial pressures across health and social care’ – and of course, this still doesn’t allow us to look very far ahead or even make plans beyond next year.

One trainee at the 1 March event said:

The biggest problem caused by having no functioning executive is the lack of budget planning. There is no chance for long-term thinking. We can’t discuss long-term workforce planning. We can’t implement any of the Bengoa recommendations without a multi-year budget.

Our new briefing sets out more than 20 recommendations. The three royal colleges are keen to work with politicians and HSCNI system leaders to support our fellows and members, share good practice and drive improvements in patient care. 

Further information: