Hundreds of people aspiring to become surgeons are being left behind due to the lack of training posts available at the NHS, according to a new investigation.
A study carried out by BMJ Careers shows that many doctors are facing “dead-end career choices”.
The group said it is because competition for the higher speciality training posts intensifies every year.
“As each year goes by, unless training numbers are drastically altered we will be left with ever increasing application ratios and an increasingly demoralised workforce,” said Edward Davies, editor of BMJ Careers.
In some areas, competition for surgical training posts is 15 to one, and a bottle-neck is being created, with some doctors having waited for 13 years for the next step in their career.
Experts argue that hundreds of doctors have been put into training with no hope of them going on to become consultants.
The problem has been made worse by a rise in the number of trainee doctors coupled with the number of surgical training posts being pulled back.
Research presented to the Medical Programme Board in June showed that, in 2010, fewer than one in four doctors qualifying in 2005/06 were recruited to a higher specialty training post.
Shreelata Datta, chair of the British Medical Association’s junior doctors committee, said the mismatch was “absolutely shocking” and could be costing the NHS millions of pounds a year.
She said some doctors may be forced to “look elsewhere and take their skills abroad,” while others may leave medicine altogether.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “Surgical training has always been highly competitive.
“The profession knows this and is supportive of it - competition helps to ensure that the best candidates progress in the field.
“A lot of work has been done nationally by the Royal College of Surgeons and other surgical bodies to determine how best to recruit the most promising doctors into surgical training.
“The expertise of those who do not progress into higher specialty training is not lost.
“For example, doctors who have completed core surgical training posts progress into other specialties, for example, a number apply to be radiologists.”