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Doctors’ workloads impacting patient care, report finds

A report by the General Medical Council has found a direct link between doctors’ mental wellbeing and patient care. 

The Caring for doctors, caring for patients report found high workloads are having a negative effect on doctors’ health and wellbeing which is, in turn, impacting patient care.

The report said that doctors with high levels of burnout are between 45% and 63%  more likely to make a major medical error in the following three months, compared with those who had low levels. And that nearly one in four doctors in training in the UK said they felt burnt out to a high or very high degree because of their work.

While nearly half of doctors in training reported working beyond their rostered hours, with one in five saying that their working pattern had left them short of sleep.

The report also highlighted the correlation between doctors’ wellbeing and the NHS’ struggle to retain doctors. Saying that nearly half of doctors who currently work in hospitals and community care in England are considering leaving their organisation. While 17%  of doctors across the UK said they were considering leaving the NHS altogether.

Leading organisational psychologist Professor Michael West and clinical psychiatrist and leader in mental health Dame Denise Coia were commissioned by the GMC to compile the report, examine the root causes of poor wellbeing and identify solutions.

Recommendations include compassionate leadership models giving doctors more say over the culture of their workplaces, adopting minimum standards of food and rest facilities, and standardising rota designs which take account of workload and available staff. Along with improvements to team-working, culture and leadership, and workloads.

The review found many individual employers and clinical teams are already implementing local solutions to address issues affecting the health and wellbeing of doctors. Professor West said:

‘UK health services can be a model for the world in creating compassionate workplaces that promote doctors’ wellbeing through meeting their core work needs.

‘We can’t simply go on the way we are, loading more responsibility onto doctors already struggling to cope. Where workloads are excessive, patient care suffers.

‘We heard some astonishing stories, of doctors being denied leave for a relative’s funeral and sleeping in their car, too exhausted to drive home from a shift.

‘But we also saw examples of good practice and compassionate leadership; places where staff engagement works well, and ideas are listened to and acted on. It’s these that should be shared and replicated more widely.’

The GMC said it has accepted the recommendations made and pledged to work with other leaders to help introduce them. Charlie Massey, the GMC’s chief executive, said:

‘Medicine has always been a high-pressure career, but doctors are telling us that the demands on them are now so great they risk becoming unmanageable. As a result, their own health suffers, and patient care is compromised.

‘Solutions are not easy, but this report shows that there are already many examples of great practice to build from. As a regulator, we will use all our influence and powers to support doctors and medical students.

‘Doctors need to feel they are part of a just and compassionate culture. They must receive appropriate and consistent support.

‘For patients to get the care they need doctors must work and train in safe, supportive and inclusive environments.’

President of the Royal College of Physicians, Professor Andrew Goddard, said there was too much talk and not enough action. He said:

‘The GMC’s spotlight on the wellbeing of doctors is, of course, welcome and we look forward to working with them.

‘Much of what they say has been said before, including by the RCP, and the fact that it is necessary to point out again that doctors need more control over their working lives, to feel valued in their workplace and to know that they are actively supported to become the best doctor that they can be suggested that there has been too much talk and not enough action.

‘One reason for this is that the biggest pressure of all on doctors has only got worse — the relentless and increasing demands placed upon them. That is why we are calling on the next government to invest in the workforce, public health, NHS estates and social care.’

Photo Credit – Pixabay

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