Workload and burnout risk rising fast among GP trainers and trainees

Workload and burnout risk among GP trainers and trainees are increasing at a faster rate than most other specialities, a GMC report reveals.

GMC chief executive Charlie Massey (Photo: GMC)

The regulator’s State of Medical Education and Practice report for 2021 found that 39% of GP trainees had ‘heavy or very heavy’ workload, nine percentage points up from 2019, and a larger rise than for any other training specialty apart from public health.

At total of 13% of GP trainees said they were at ‘high risk’ of burnout, the report found, a six percentage point increase on 2019 and the second-fastest rise seen across all specialties. The proportion of GP trainers at high risk of burnout was also 13%.

Workload also rose significantly for GP trainers, with 87% saying workload was ‘heavy or very heavy’ - six percentage points more than in 2019, and well above the 60% of secondary care trainers reporting heavy or very heavy workload. Over 70% of GP trainers said they ‘always or often’ felt worn out at the end of the working day.

GP education

Findings that GP trainees and trainers are struggling with higher workloads and burnout during the pandemic come as the regulator warned that one in three GPs are at 'high risk of burnout' - with almost half looking to reduce their hours.

GP leaders have warned that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing 'intense workload and workforce pressures' in general practice - and called for urgent action to protect the health and wellbeing of GPs.

The report found 30% of GP trainers felt frustrated by their work to a ‘high or very high’ degree. Nine in 10 reported having worked beyond their hours at least once a week.

It added: 'The pandemic has had a marked impact on trainee wellbeing. This has been the most negative set of responses to our questions on burnout since we introduced them in 2018. [Burnout] increase is even more marked in general practice, where 22% of GP trainers reported feeling burnt out to a high/very high degree – up by five percentage points since 2019.'

Trainee wellbeing

Despite issues with workload and burnout, GP trainers were overwhelmingly satisfied (96%) that their working environment was fully supportive. Almost all agreed that this was the case, regardless of background, belief, or identity (99%) - and a similar proportion felt valued in their workplace (94%).

The vast majority of GP trainees also rated the quality of their teaching as ‘good or very good’ (86%) - the second highest of all specialities - and 92% said the same when discussing their overall experience.

GMC chief executive Charlie Massey said: ‘There is cause for hope. Despite the difficulties, doctors still feel the pandemic has led to positive changes, particularly in relation to visible leadership, teamwork, high quality training environments and knowledge sharing across the profession. It is crucial that we embed and build on these benefits in the months ahead.

‘We must not underestimate the impact that working in such difficult environments has. There must be a renewed and continued focus on making the workplace cultures in our health services inclusive and compassionate. Doing so will benefit patient care as well as doctors’ wellbeing.’

GP training

The GMC's medical training survey found in July that one in three trainee doctors and a fifth of trainers felt burned out to a 'high' or 'very high' degree after working through the pandemic - and one in 10 trainees were concerned about progressing through their training.

Co-chair of the Medical Schools Council (MSC) Professor Malcolm Reed warned in October that fewer medics could opt for GP training after picking up 'negative views' about the profession from recent smear campaigns in some sections of the media.

But recruitment onto general practice training continues to enjoy success, with 4,000 people accepting places to begin training in 2021/22 - meeting the government’s target and surpassing last year’s intake of 3,793 trainees by 5.5%.

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