COVID-19 disrupted training for four in five doctors, GMC survey shows

The vast majority of trainee doctors have seen their training disrupted or limited by the COVID-19 pandemic, a GMC poll reveals.

More than 80% of trainees said the pandemic had reduced access to training required to move on in their careers and around three quarters said training had been disrupted in recent months, the regulator's annual training survey found.

Most trainees said their workplace had been supportive despite major disruption - but two in five GP trainees - and just over half of GP trainers - said their workload was heavier because of the pandemic. 

Two fifths of trainees and trainers said their work was emotionally exhausting to a high or very high degree - and just under half always or often felt worn out at the end of the working day, the survey found.

Trainees under pressure

Despite challenges to training during the pandemic, a GMC report on the survey concluded that trainees themselves may have benefited overall from their experiences over the past eight months.

The report says: 'Although formal training has been disrupted during the pandemic, staying in rotations longer and being exposed to challenging situations is likely to have provided new live learning opportunities and broader skills beneficial for doctors’ careers and development.'

The GMC has insisted that trainees must be ‘able to catch up on missed competencies’ without overburdening them or trainers, warning that medical education must be ‘flexible and responsive’ to adapt.

Around 60% of the 23,123 trainee doctors answering the survey said their day-to-day work had changed significantly as a result of the pandemic. During the peak of the first wave many trainees were redeployed into other specialties to meet demand.

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Almost half of trainees had concerns about their safety or that of colleagues during the pandemic - but most said these were addressed fully or to some degree. Almost two thirds of trainees and trainers rated organisational support around health and safety and their wellbeing as good or very good.

Between 10-15% of both groups, however, reported support was poor or non existent. More than three quarters of trainees agreed there were enough staff to ensure patients were always treated by someone with an appropriate level of clinical experience - and around one in 10 said this was not always the case.

GMC chief executive Charlie Massey insisted that disruption to training could not be underestimated. He said: ‘Our survey shows us that trainees and trainers alike believe important training has been missed. This is no surprise, but it is important now that we work hard, with training providers, postgraduate deans and others, to protect training as we cope with this significant and ongoing challenge.

Good medical practice

'Despite the challenges, we have also seen many examples of good practice, including where training has been delivered virtually, and excellent teamwork, to address the sudden demands of the pandemic.

‘It is important to recognise that, while formal training has inevitably been disrupted, the pandemic is a learning experience for us all. The experience doctors gain during these challenging times will be valuable for their future careers.’

The GMC said it would hold talks with health service leaders and statutory education bodies to look at the changes needed in a post pandemic world.

GPs recently warned that a sharp reduction in face-to-face consultations during pandemic threatens to undermine GP training by limiting opportunities to develop key skills. The GMC resumed the applied knowledge test (AKT) part of doctors' exams in July after the initial coronavirus outbreak.

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