GMC warning on burnout among trainee doctors

  • Date: 26 July 2022

POST-PANDEMIC NHS backlogs threaten the health and wellbeing of thousands of doctors, as well as their patients, the General Medical Council (GMC) has warned in a report of its annual national training survey.

The survey has revealed increasing reports of overwork and burnout among trainers and trainee doctors.

Two-fifths of trainees (39 per cent) said that they feel burnt out to a high or very high degree because of their work. This figure is up six per cent on 2021. Over half (51 per cent) said they felt that their work was emotionally exhausting to a high or very high degree, and two-thirds (66 per cent) said they always or often feel worn out at the end of the working day.

GMC analysis of the results (based on seven separate questions) indicates that 63 per cent of trainees and 52 per cent of trainers are at moderate or high risk of burnout. The regulator says these are the highest levels since these questions were introduced to the survey.

Trainees in all medical specialties showed an increased risk of burnout compared to last year. The highest rate was in emergency medicine, with 32 per cent of doctors in training at high risk of burnout, up from 21 per cent in 2021.

The survey did find that a majority (74 per cent) of medical trainees are still satisfied with the quality of their training, describing the teaching as either ‘good’ or ‘very good’ – and 88 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that their workplace provides a supportive environment for everyone regardless of background, beliefs or identity.

Charlie Massey, chief executive of the GMC, said: "These results show the extent to which our health services are struggling to recover from the impact of the pandemic, and that NHS backlogs are not just a risk to patients, but also to the health and wellbeing of doctors.

"The danger now is that increased workloads, and the stress and burnout risk that go with them, may become permanent. We’re sharing our data with employers and postgraduate training leads so they can target areas of concern and promote good practice.

"Support for trainees and trainers must be at the heart of future workforce policy decisions, or we risk creating a vicious circle that, ultimately, will adversely affect patients."

Dr Naeem Nazem, head of medical division at MDDUS, commented on the survey findings: "The results are distressing but sadly unsurprising as they reflect the findings of our earlier UK-wide survey of MDDUS members.

"A third of members told us their current level of health and wellbeing was worse than in comparison to the first wave of Covid-19 in 2020, with nearly half experiencing a higher level of stress and anxiety at work.

"As the NHS continues to recover from the pandemic, it is crucial that support for trainee doctors and trainers is at the heart of future workforce policy decisions."

Dr John Holden, chief medical officer at MDDUS, added: "We welcome the news that the GMC is making employers and postgraduate training leads aware of this worsening trend and taking action.

"It's vital that the GMC take a similar approach when revising the Good medical practice (GMP) guidelines and recognise the importance of organisational leadership and context.

"There are encouraging recommendations in the revised GMP consultation draft, but resource pressures may make these difficult for medical professionals to deliver. If the recommendations are truly to support doctors rather than act as a rule book, the support of employers, educators and government will be necessary."

This page was correct at the time of publication. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

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