Experts have called for urgent action to be taken to combat ‘extremely troubling’ levels of burnout among UK doctors, after a survey revealed that almost half have considered leaving the profession because of concerns for their personal wellbeing.
A poll of doctors by the Medical Protection Society (MPS), a membership organisation, found 45 per cent had considered quitting the profession, with 35 per cent reporting they had thought about working abroad.
The report highlighted that burnout was increasingly prevalent among UK doctors, with a majority of survey respondents (52 per cent) reporting they were not satisfied with their work/life balance.
It also uncovered a lack of support to help doctors deal with the pressures they face. Nearly three in five doctors (58 per cent) said they did not feel like their personal wellbeing was a priority of their line manager.
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Of the 275 doctors, surveyed in June this year, 28 per cent said they did not feel supported by their line manager, and 44 per cent said they did not feel encouraged to discuss wellbeing issues.
Almost all respondents (93 per cent) reported that there was no one in their workplace responsible solely for staff wellbeing.
Professor Dame Jane Dacre, president of the MPS, said: “Mounting evidence shows that doctors feel burnt out and disillusioned in ever greater numbers.
“We simply must not let the environment we work in reduce the sense of value that we get from being a doctor – there is much that can be done, and the healthcare community as a whole has a responsibility to act.”
Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, said: “It's crucial that those with line management responsibility are raising this issue, and talking to healthcare professionals about their health and wellbeing, particularly in such a difficult environment.
“If wellbeing is not seen as important and you are seeing higher levels of stress, then it will become a vicious cycle, as sustained stress impacts on professional capability as well.”
He added that although healthcare environments could be difficult places to implement wellbeing strategies because of a lack of resources, there were still things that HR professionals could be doing.
These included providing clear information and resources to doctors about how to manage their workload more effectively and support their own wellbeing, and issuing clear guidance on people taking the breaks and annual leave they're entitled to.
According to research outlined in the report, the welfare of doctors had “major implications” for patient outcomes and the performance of healthcare providers. It highlighted that doctors with burnout were more likely to rate patient safety lower in their organisations, and admit to having made mistakes, jeopardising patient care.
The report called on the government, healthcare providers and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to take urgent steps to improve doctors’ wellbeing and tackle “endemic” burnout as an issue of patient safety, including funding for a confidential counselling service for all healthcare professionals across the UK.
It also recommended that CQC assessments consider the extent to which healthcare providers care for their doctors’ wellbeing, and called for a wellbeing guardian to be placed in every NHS organisation by 2022 to ensure a trained professional was available to support professionals experiencing difficulties.
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers and deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation, welcomed the report’s recommendations, and pledged to “continue to work with employers to ensure doctors feel supported in their workplaces”.
However, he also called on the government to take action, saying that “capital investment is urgently required to improve our working environments and give clinical teams the tools they need to do their jobs well.
“There must be a plan for long-term investment in social care, so that the jobs we ask our teams to do feel achievable.”