Excessive workload for doctors in training puts patients at risk, GMC warns

Over half of doctors in training say they work beyond their rostered hours at least weekly, and more than a fifth regularly feel tired and short of sleep at work due to their schedules, a GMC survey has found.

Concern over trainee workload (Photo: iStock)
Concern over trainee workload (Photo: iStock)

Some 53% of doctors in training work beyond their contracted hours on a weekly basis, according to initial findings from the GMC’s national training survey 2017.

Over a fifth (22%) said working patterns left them feeling short of sleep while at work on a daily or weekly basis.

But the GMC said the figures show a slight improvement on 2016, when 58% said they worked beyond rostered hours weekly.

Over 53,000 doctors in training responded to the survey, representing over 98% of those in the country.

The majority (82%) described the quality of their training as excellent or good, while 41% reported that their workload was heavy or very heavy, a slight decrease from the year before (43%).

GP training

The survey also asked for the first time whether trainees felt that rota design impacted on their education and training – a third indicated that rota gaps impact on training opportunities.

GMC chief executive Charlie Massey said: ‘Workload issues, and the impact they can have on doctors’ education and training, remain a persistent and troubling issue. Tiredness and fatigue can impair decision-making, and so can impact on patients as well as the doctors themselves.

‘Our early findings suggest some trainees have experienced improvements in workloads since last year. This is welcome, and it’s important that we acknowledge the work being done, across all four UK nations, to deal with these pressures.

‘However, it is too early to determine whether it is the start of a longer-term trend. We know from our wider conversations with trainees that the situation for them continues to be very challenging.

‘In the meantime it is important that education providers do what they can protect the quality of training and the wellbeing of doctors, using the results of this year’s surveys to target their efforts.’

BMA junior doctors committee chair, GP trainee Dr Jeeves Wijesuriya, said the findings were unacceptable.

‘For years, the BMA has argued that rota gaps are a serious threat to patient safety, to the education and training junior doctors receive and to the morale of staff which is why we agreed with the GMC that national training surveys should include a focus on rota gaps,' he said.

‘These findings provide another opportunity for politicians to listen to doctors and take action. The pressure of working in an NHS at breaking point, with chronic NHS underfunding and staff shortages puts doctors at greater risk of fatigue and burnout.

‘The BMA is ensuring employers better protect training time and improve rostering for trainees, specifically those working less than full time and we have worked with the GMC on a seven-point plan to improve work-life balance, focus on outcomes rather than time spent training, and support doctors with specific needs.’

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