The UK's National Health Service is “in danger of complete collapse”, with a poll revealing more than two in five of the most senior hospital medics are planning to leave in the next year, leading doctors have warned.
The NHS is “at breaking point” and there must be immediate government action, the British Medical Association said.
The BMA poll found that 44 per cent of hospital consultants in England plan to leave the NHS, or take a break from it, over the next year.
Among consultant surgeons, the figure was 50 per cent.
The BMA survey of almost 8,000 consultants suggested pay and pension tax arrangements were among the reasons they planned to leave.
Meanwhile, nine in 10 consultants said this year’s pay rise of 4.5 per cent, was “inadequate” or “completely unacceptable”.
The BMA said “punitive” rules on pension tax have led to a tripling of doctors taking early retirement in the past 13 years, with the average retirement age now 59.
“The NHS is already at breaking point and cannot afford to lose any of its staff, never mind facing the prospect of losing nearly half of its most senior doctors," said Dr Vishal Sharma, chairman of the BMA consultants' committee.
“Not only will this have a very significant adverse impact on patient care, this loss of doctors will simply result in increased pressure on those staff who remain in the workforce, further increasing the risk of burnout.
“After years of demoralising real-terms pay cuts and chronic staffing shortages, the NHS and its staff are on their knees.
“The government must urgently demonstrate that it values the medical workforce by taking steps to restore doctors’ pay.
“The government must also urgently address the pension tax trap that is forcing doctors to reduce their hours and take early retirement to avoid being unfairly taxed on their pensions.
“The good will of staff upon which the NHS depends has all but dried up. Without immediate action, the NHS is in danger of complete collapse.
“Our hospitals are full with patients left in corridors for hours and sometimes even days," Dr Sharma said.
"Ambulances are frequently unable to attend to emergencies in the community as they are stuck waiting to offload patients to emergency departments that are unable to take them.
"Patients are waiting months and even years to access the treatment that they need, with many more suffering in silence who haven’t yet made it on to a waiting list.
“This is not the NHS that our patients deserve or that our staff signed up to work in.
“We urge the government to come to the table and talk to consultants about the changes that are needed before it is too late to stop the drain of doctors from the NHS.”