NHS 450 psychiatrists short of a full couch

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UP TO 450 top psychiatry jobs in the NHS are lying vacant, with senior doctors queuing up to retire early, writes Roger Dobson.

Increasing numbers ofpsychiatrists are leaving at 55, unhappy with the status of the job, concerned about being blamed when things go wrong after the discharge of a patient - and fed up with bureaucracy and high workloads.

The staffing crisis in psychiatry is exacerbated by the speciality remaining low on the list of jobs preferred by new doctors graduating from medical school.

Now the Government is being urged to investigate the problem and come up with some solution, including funding a large-scale recruitment drive.

Latest estimates suggest there are 453 consultant psychiatrist posts currently vacant out of a total of 3,300 such posts within the NHS.

"Both early retirement and recruitment are problem areas," says Dr Robin Arnold, chairman of the British Medical Association's psychiatry committee, who has called for the Government to take action to ease the crisis. "While physicians are accountable for what they do to a patient, psychiatrists are seen as being responsible for what their patients do," says Dr Arnold.

"Status is another problem," he added, "and there are also the demands of the job. Whereas a surgeon can operate and leave the hospital relatively untouched personally, you cannot deal with people who are severely depressed or who are reporting abuse, without being personally affected. It is very demanding and that does wear away at people over the years."

Last century, psychiatry was seen as an exciting new area of medicine. Now, it is regarded as one of the specialities that look after long-term disorders - a less popular field for doctors. Many of those leaving are thought to be moving into private practice.