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‘Prioritise’ junior doctors’ mental health, bosses told

BMA calls for better access to occupational services

Jo Carlowe

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Healthcare leaders must recognise the importance of junior doctors’ wellbeing, the British Medical Association (BMA) has urged today.

To mark World Mental Health Day, the BMA has released its ‘Supporting Health and Wellbeing at Work’ report, which calls for better universal access to occupational health services and improved mental health support for doctors in training, as well as those across the profession.

The report finds that NHS pressures including underfunding, workforce shortages and rising patient demand are affecting doctors’ mental and physical wellbeing, with intense workloads, understaffed rotas and long hours leaving them at risk of illness and burn-out.

With junior doctors citing health and wellbeing as a core reason for taking time away from training programmes, the failure to address this issue will ultimately exacerbate existing workforce pressures, potentially compromising patient care and incurring increased cost for the health service, it warns.

The report highlights that NHS staff have a high rate of sickness absence and that doctors frequently attend work despite feeling unwell in order not to fail patients and colleagues.

Evidence from a BMA survey, cited in the report, found:

  • Only about half of doctors were aware of occupational health (OH) services, while one in five said no support services were provided;
  • Only 27% were very or quite confident that their employer would provide support in the event of their physical or mental health suffering due to work.
The report also warned of widespread discrepancies between UK nations, and called for more prevention initiatives, mental health awareness campaigns and action to remove stigma around accessing services.

Key recommendations included:
  • OH services should be free, comprehensive and meet the needs of doctors working across all settings, and should be adequately funded.
  • OH services must be confidential to avoid discouraging staff from seeking help. 
  • The BMA fatigue and facilities charter should be implemented.
  • Employers must give priority to staff health and wellbeing and provide leadership on the subject.
  • Employers need to take steps to mitigate the effects of understaffing and rota gaps.
Commenting, Dr Jeeves Wijesuriya, BMA junior doctors committee chair, said: “Medicine is a demanding profession and junior doctors often find themselves working long hours in intense environments, often without adequate staffing and support.

“Meeting rising demand in an under-resourced system in which you are fearful of being blamed for mistakes is physically and emotionally exhausting and we know the effects on doctors’ health and wellbeing can be significant. And as more junior doctors cite health reasons for taking time out of training programmes, existing workforce shortages get worse and the vicious cycle continues.

“It is therefore vital that issues around workload, stress and burnout are addressed urgently. By placing staff health and wellbeing at the heart of the NHS, it benefits the whole health service, through better patient outcomes, higher staff morale, and reduced turnover and sickness absence – which crucially for managers and policymakers saves valuable resources.”

He added: “It is clear that the doctors experience poor mental health at a rate above that of the general population, and the NHS must play its part as an employer in reducing the number of avoidable deaths of doctors due to suicide by improving provision of high quality and confidential mental health services for its staff.

“To this end, last week’s announcement of extra funding to roll out the NHS Practitioner Health Programme for all doctors is incredibly welcome. We’ve heard from those using the GP Health Service what an overwhelmingly positive effect it has had on both their mental health, wellbeing and their ability to continue working, and a national service for doctors of all grades is a huge step forward.”

“Overall the NHS must embrace a culture of care, making its staff feel valued and respected. So often, for an organisation that prides itself on the care and compassion it shows to others, it fails to look after its own.”

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