THE UK has fewer doctors per person than almost all other European countries, new figures reveal.
Health groups and unions last night branded the situation “extremely worrying” and urged the Government to “get a grip” on staffing levels.
It comes as figures produced by the European Commission show the UK has 2.71 practising doctors for every 1,000 people.
It puts us 24th in the league table of 27 European nations – behind some of the poorest countries, including Bulgaria, Estonia and Latvia.
Only Poland, Romania and Slovenia have fewer doctors per head.
By comparison there are more than six doctors per 1,000 people in Greece, which tops the list, nearly five in Austria and just under four in Italy.
Last night critics slammed policy makers and said the shortages had “serious implications” for patient care.
Rehana Azam, GMB National Officer for the NHS said: “Enough is enough, there can be no more cuts to budget or staffing.
“There is so much pressure on NHS staff because of the shortage and the huge number of patients they treat.
“It’s extremely worrying, particularly as we are facing the toughest winter in years.
“There is no efficient care in the community which means people who otherwise wouldn’t need to come to hospital to be treated, are.”
The report was published by the EU Commission as part of its “Eurostat regional yearbook 2013″.
The EU figures, showing the number of physicians practising in all EU countries during 2010, come after a string of events which critics say show the NHS faces a staffing crisis.
In September, Queen’s hospital in Romford and King George’s in Ilford, part of the Barking, Havering and Redbridge Trust, asked recruitment agencies to find staff for its overstretched casualty department.
Earlier this year, it was revealed that half of all senior doctor posts go unfilled at accident and emergency departments, putting unsustainable pressure on life-or-death care.
And last month, critics called for urgent action after it was reported that almost one in four young A&E doctors who trained in Britain have left to work in Australia or New Zealand.
Last night, Dr Paul Flynn, Chair of the British Medical Association Consultants Committee, said the staff shortages were a serious concern.
He said: “Policy makers need to get a grip on NHS workforce planning.
“Projected imbalances between different specialties will have serious implications for patient care and we are already seeing the effect of staff shortages in key areas such as emergency care.
“In addition, despite the pledge to protect front-line services, many employers in the NHS are freezing recruitment in response to financial pressures
“We need to align staffing levels to match the changing demands of patients and address issues such as workload pressures and work-life balance that might be deterring medical graduates from choosing certain career paths or moving abroad.
“Doctors in the NHS face increasingly challenging, high pressured and stressful work environments, often with limited resources and gruelling workloads.
“Only by making working practices and environments safe and sustainable will the NHS be able attract and retain the required number and mix of doctors.”
A Department of Health spokesperson insisted the number of physicians in the NHS is rising.
She said: “The number of doctors in the NHS has gone up on average by 3.5% each year over the past 10 years, and there are over 6,600 more doctors than in May 2010.
“At the same time, the number of admin staff, managers and senior managers has fallen by nearly 23,000.
“We set up the first ever national training body, Health Education England, backed by £5 billion funding, to make sure we have the right numbers of doctors and other staff, with the right skills and values, in our NHS.”
* This story, by reporter Rob Weekes, appeared in the Sun on January 3, 2014, and the Telegraph and the Times on January 4, 2014.