Trainee doctors need more support with health problems

Author: Mark Gould
Trainee doctors need more support with health problems

A third of trainee doctors are unsure who at work they should approach with concerns about their own health and wellbeing, a General Medical Council (GMC) survey* has found.

The findings come in the GMC’s initial report into its 2019 national training surveys, an annual detailed UK-wide poll of more than 75,000 doctors in training and doctors who act as trainers.

The surveys showed improvements in workloads faced by trainees and trainers, and that the proportion of trainees working beyond their rostered hours every day has halved, from 18.6% to 9.1%, since 2016.

Questions about travel and common rooms were included this year for the first time. More than a quarter of trainee doctors feel unsafe when travelling to or from work when working out-of-hours or long shifts.

And nearly half of non-GP trainers either don’t have access to a common room or, if they do, they rated it as "poor" or "very poor". More than 60% of trainees and non-GP trainers disagreed that they had easy access to suitable catering when working out-of-hours.

Charlie Massey, chief executive of the GMC, said: "We’re pleased that trainees are continuing to see improvements to their working hours and to their training, showing that employers are working hard to tackle issues highlighted by the surveys. However, those efforts must continue if we are to support the excellent doctors we have.

"We all must do more to address the causes of poor wellbeing, starting with making sure that every doctor working in the UK knows who they can turn to in their organisation if their health and wellbeing is suffering.

"Doctors work long hours in highly pressured environments, and they need support. We are concerned about how work pressures impact on the mental health and wellbeing of doctors, which could ultimately impact patient care. We’ve commissioned a UK-wide review, chaired by Dame Denise Coia and Professor Michael West, to address this important issue."

The deputy chief executive at NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery said the survey suggests some progress towards more manageable workloads for trainers and trainees, with the proportion working beyond their rostered hours every day halving. "This is particularly welcome given the ongoing workforce pressures with the NHS facing 100,000 vacancies," she said.

“But it is disheartening to see that almost half are working over-time on a weekly basis and a third of trainee doctors do not know who to approach at work when it comes to their own health. We know that workload is the primary cause of stress at work. However, trusts have been innovating to ensure that staff are given a break, and to improve staff wellbeing overall.

“Clearly there is more to do. It is important that we see action at a local and national level. Last month, we welcomed the interim NHS people plan which aims to fix the workforce crisis by getting the sector behind a single, clear approach. We welcomed its ambition to make the NHS a great place to work, to change its leadership culture and to train a workforce for the future.

“It is now time to invest in NHS education and to address training budgets in the forthcoming spending review so that the ambitions in the NHS Long Term Plan can be realised. Ultimately we need to look after NHS staff to look after NHS patients.”

*National training surveys 2019: Initial findings report. A report prepared by the General Medical Council, July 2019.