More than three in five trainees across all medical specialties are at moderate or high risk of burnout, the GMC's national training survey for 2022 found - up from just under half in 2018.
The proportion of all medical trainees at 'high risk' of burnout has almost doubled from 10% in 2018 to 19% in 2022, the survey shows. Among GP trainees, the proportion deemed at 'high risk' of burnout has spiked particularly sharply over the past year, rising from 13% to 18%.
Burnout risk for trainers is also on the rise, the survey of more than 67,000 doctors shows, but satisfaction with training in general practice in particular has remained high - with 87% of GP trainees rating the quality of teaching they received as good or very good compared to 74% across all medical trainees.
The GMC said its findings showed that in 2022 trends around excessive workload and burnout had continued to deteriorate - and warned that the growing NHS backlog posed an increasing risk not just to patients but also to doctors.
Junior doctors' leaders at the BMA warned that the morale of medical professionals was at 'rock bottom' and that the health service could not continue to rely on the goodwill of staff to work through the backlog.
GMC chief executive Charlie Massey 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.’
Two thirds of trainee doctors said they ‘always’ or ‘often’ felt worn out at the end of a working day, while 44% were regularly ‘exhausted in the morning at the thought of another day at work’.
Overall, 63% of trainees and 52% of doctors who work as trainers are at moderate or high risk of burnout - figures the GMC says are the highest since these questions were added to its survey.
Mr Massey added: ‘GPs are often the first point of contact on a patient’s journey and have weathered increasing pressures as our health services face post-pandemic backlogs. The impact of this has been reflected in this year’s survey, where negative responses to burnout-related questions among GP trainees and trainers have increased compared to last year.
‘What has been steadfast throughout is the quality of training. Despite the many pressures, nine out of 10 GP trainees described the quality of their training as either ‘good’ or ‘very good’. That is testament to the dedication, hard work and commitment of trainers. But there is no room for complacency, and GP trainers must be supported to balance their training commitments alongside their heavy workloads.’
BMA England GP committee deputy chair Dr Kieran Sharrock said: 'The government must be held accountable for the NHS workforce crisis which, as these findings show, has taken a severe toll on the wellbeing of both GP trainers and trainees.
'Nearly three quarters (73%) of GP trainers said that they always or often feel worn out at the end of the working day and over a sixth (16%) of GP trainees said they work beyond their rostered hours on a daily basis. This unequivocally shows that the emotional intensity of the job cannot be underestimated, as no doctor in general practice is immune to the immense pressure on the health service, which is already compromising patient safety.'
Dr Sharrock hit out at the continuing decline in the GP workforce despite government promises to increase GP numbers.
Medical Protection Society medical director Dr Rob Hendry said: 'The GMC is right to highlight the risks when healthcare professionals are exhausted and burnt out. It is not only concerning for their personal wellbeing but for patient care. We need to develop a much deeper understanding of how COVID-19 has impacted on training, workloads and mental wellbeing.'
Dr Naeem Nazem, head of medical division at MDDUS, said: '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.'
MDU head of advisory services Dr Udvitha Nandasoma said: 'With doctors still under pressure as the NHS tries to catch up with pandemic backlogs, it is imperative that doctors in training get the support they need to avoid the risk of burnout. After all, medical trainees are the future of the NHS.'