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UK and US place have fewer doctors than Costa Rica and Lithuania

Countries with the fewest doctors are revealed: UK and US place near the bottom of the league – and have fewer medics than Costa Rica, Lithuania and Russia

  • In the UK there are 2.8 working doctors for every 1,000 people in the population
  • This compares to 6.1 in Greece, 5.2 in Austria, 5 in Portugal and 4.7 in Norway
  • Canada and the US had 2.7 and 2.6 respectively, according to a report
  • The OECD publication compared 44 developed nations from around the world 

The UK and US have among the fewest doctors of all the world’s developed nations, a report has revealed.  

With just 2.8 and 2.6 doctors for every 1,000 people, the UK and US’s health services are worse staffed even than countries such as Costa Rica, Russia and Lithuania.

Greece has the most doctors, with 6.1 per 1,000 people, while Austria, Portugal, Norway and Lithuania also ranked among the highest.

In a wider report comparing developed nations around the world, Indonesia, India and South Africa were worst off, with not even a single doctor for every 1,000. 

Experts said health staff shortages were ‘not new’ for countries in the report, and doctor numbers are dropping as older generations of medics retire without enough young replacements. 

A report by the OECD economic organisation revealed that Greece, Austria and Portugal had the best staffed health services while Indonesia, India and South Africa were worst off – the UK and US ranked towards the lower end of the table

The figures were based on 2017 data published today in the Health at a Glance 2019 report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The OECD is an international organisation with 36 members states, and studies the economies and populations of developed countries.

‘Concerns about shortages of health professionals are not new… but these concerns have grown in many countries, especially as the “baby-boom” generation of doctors and nurses starts to retire,’ the report read.

‘Over the past decade, concerns about the ageing medical workforce moving towards retirement have prompted many OECD countries to increase the number of students in medical and nursing education programmes.

‘While some countries, such as Australia, have already started to see the benefits of earlier increases in medical education places, the long duration of doctors’ training means that it takes a decade or more to feel the impact of increasing intake into medical education.’

The average number of doctors per 1,000 people in the population was 3.5 for the countries in the report.

More countries fell below the average than above it, including some of the world’s most powerful nations in the US, Canada, UK, France, Japan and China.

Canada was on par with the UK and US, with 2.7, while Australia had more than average, with 3.7. 

The researchers said: ‘Concerns about shortages of health professionals are not new… but these concerns have grown in many countries, especially as the “baby-boom” generation of doctors and nurses starts to retire’ (stock image)


  • Health service last year revealed it would offer doctors working in Australia an £18,500 bonus if they moved to the UK to work for the NHS. A recruitment campaign reportedly tried to persuade doctors to move to the land of Harry Potter, Manchester United and William Shakespeare.
  • NHS set up a scheme to recruit 2,000 GPs from abroad by encouraging doctors in other countries to apply to work in the NHS. But only 34 were recruited between 2015 and February this year.
  • Trainee GPs offered a £20,000 ‘golden hello’ bonus if they take a job in hard-to-fill jobs. The young doctors must commit to work for at least three years in areas with notable shortages, including Hull, Plymouth, Lancaster and rural parts of County Durham and North Yorkshire. 
  • Matt Hancock suggested the tax-free pension ceiling could be lifted to try and persuade more existing GPs to work into their 60s. Currently doctors have to pay tax on any pension savings over £1m, but this amount could be increased.

The UK, which ranked 30th out of 44, is known to be in the midst of a GP recruitment crisis. 

Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians told MailOnline: ‘This research is yet further evidence of the number one issue facing the NHS right now: a lack of workforce.

‘The pressure on medical professionals to provide quality care to patients when there simply aren’t enough staff to do so, is causing the NHS to buckle. 

‘Our own research has shown that almost half of advertised consultant posts are going unfilled due to a lack of suitable applicants.

‘The RCP has been calling for a doubling of medical school places for the past 2 years – the OECD report is stark evidence that this is needed.’  

Figures released in August showed the NHS has lost almost 600 GPs in the last year.

Almost as many family doctors left the health service between June 2018 and June 2019 as did in the entire three years to March.

As well as overstretched patient lists, doctor numbers have been hit by a row over pension rules which mean NHS employees face heavy and ‘unfair’ taxes once they’ve saved up a certain amount of money.

This has led to some cutting their hours to keep their pension contributions down and may even have triggered early retirements, unions have said.

And many are ageing and leaving the workforce to retire with not enough younger medics to replace them.  

The NHS is now thought to be short of around 100,000 staff, among them doctors and nurses, and a Government pledge to hire 5,000 between 2015 and 2020 has backfired as the number has fallen since the promise was made.  

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