Almost half of UK doctors have considered quitting amid NHS burnout crisis

Nearly half of doctors in the UK have considered quitting their job due to concerns about their personal wellbeing in the face of increased workload, a report suggests.

GPs under pressure (Photo: sturti/Getty Images)
GPs under pressure (Photo: sturti/Getty Images)

In a report published by the Medical Protection Society (MPS), 45% of doctors said they had thought about leaving the profession due to concerns about their wellbeing.

The findings, based on a health and wellbeing survey of 275 healthcare professionals, also found that around a third (35%) of doctors had considered moving abroad to escape the pressures of UK practice.

Burnout is a growing problem within the healthcare sector, with general practice at high risk. In April, GPonline reported that one in 20 GPs working in England had sought the help of a specialist NHS mental health service for doctors since October 2016.

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Professor Jane Dacre: GP burnout can no longer be overlooked

Growing demands and complexity of the job, a faster pace of work and tighter financial constraints have been highlighted by the MPS as key factors leading to burnout within the medical profession.

The organisation has called for urgent action to tackle burnout and warned that the NHS risked 'even greater numbers of doctors becoming disillusioned’ and quitting if nothing was done.

A culture of no breaks, the report revealed, was a contributing factor to burnout - a quarter of respondents ‘rarely or never took’ breaks at work, while 68% said regular rest periods were not the norm.

40% of respondents admitted that they felt unable to take a break to eat or drink due to workload pressures. Just under a third (65%) said they found it difficult to say no when asked to undertake additional tasks.

Work/life balance

More than half of doctors surveyed said they were not or not at all satisfied with their work/life balance, with 37% indicating there was ‘no fair and equal approach' to policies such as flexible working.

Almost 40% said they did not get the support they need from their employer to do their job well, while 44% indicated they did not feel encouraged by their line manager/GP partner to discuss wellbeing issues.

A total of 58% of doctors reported that they did not feel like their personal personal wellbeing was a priority for their line manager or GP partner - although 64% of doctors did say they felt supported by their peers.

The report warned: ‘Doctors with burnout are more likely to subjectively rate patient safety lower in their organisations and to admit to having made mistakes or delivered substandard care at work; they are less empathic, less able cognitively and can have a negative impact on colleagues, teams and the organisation.

Complaints

‘This can jeopardise patient care and lead to complaints or a negligence claim, leaving clinicians even more vulnerable to burnout. Victims of burnout also suffer from poorer health and strained private lives.’

Greater satisfaction with work/life balance, report authors said, would help to lower absenteeism and improve financial performance.

Earlier this month, a GPonline survey found that full-time GP partners were working over 50% more than the standard 37.5-hour working week completed by NHS employees.

MPS president Professor Dame Jane Dacre said the increasing levels of burnout in the profession were ‘extremely troubling’.

Burnout

'It is perhaps one of the great paradoxes of our age, that modern medicine allows doctors to do more for their patients than ever before, yet increasing evidence shows that doctors feel burnt out and disillusioned in ever greater numbers.

‘When doctors feel burnt out it is not only concerning for them but for patients and the wider team. Doctors who are happy and engaged are much more likely to be compassionate and provide safer patient care.

‘We call on healthcare providers, the CQC, and the government to take urgent steps to improve the working environment and to truly begin to tackle the endemic of burnout in healthcare.’

Meanwhile, chief executive of the GMC Charlie Massey, said: 'medicine has always been a high-pressure career but the demands on doctors are frowing ever-greater. Without concerted action there is a real risk that patient care, as well as doctors' wellbeing, will suffer. 

Compelling career 

'We must all work to make sure medicine remains the compelling career option that it has been for generations'.

Massey confirmed that the GMC was close to publishing its review into factors affecting mental health and wellbeing of doctors and medical students. 

The MPS made five recommendations in its report, asking healthcare organisations to have clear policies in place to ensure healthcare professionals feel able to take breaks.

It also asked for NHS organisations to employ workforce wellbeing guardians in every NHS organisation and GP partnership and called for financial support from the DHSC to help provide funding for confidential counselling for professionals.

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