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Almost a quarter of doctors in training ‘burnt out’ due to workload, GMC says

A staggering almost quarter of all doctors in training and fifth of trainers feel burnt out because of long and intense working hours and heavy workloads, a major medical council has said.

In its annual survey of doctors in training, the General Medical Council said growing challenges of frontline medical practice are affecting doctors’ training experience and their personal wellbeing.

Almost a third of trainees said that they are often or always exhausted at the thought of another shift, and two in five trainees rated the intensity of their work as very heavy or heavy, the survey found.

“Together these findings present a worrying picture. Highly pressurised environments struggle to prioritise training in the face of an increasing population with more complex health needs, constrained budgets, and a medical profession at a crunch point - where the supply of new doctors has failed to keep pace with changes in demand,” the GMC said.

Tiredness and fatigue have also been factoring heavily into doctors during their training, the GMC noted: a startling well over a half of trainees, and just under a half of trainers, reported that they often or always feel worn out at the end of their working day. A fifth of doctors in training and trainers told the GMC they feel short of sleep when at work.

Growing workloads and thin workforces have stunted learning opportunities for young doctors as well: around a third of doctors in training and trainer said that training opportunities are lost to rota gaps.

The issue of rota gaps has been a recurring theme around the NHS— in May the Royal College of Nurses (RCN) found that cuts to NHS funding and gaps in rotas meant that nurses missed out on “vital” training.

The GMC went on: “It is no exaggeration to say that there are those across the profession who feel less supported and more vulnerable than ever before. Tackling inadequate training environments, increasing support for trainees and trainers, and improving processes for reporting concerns are all vital to the future sustainability and success of UK postgraduate training and the medical workforce.

“Doctors have challenged us to be clearer with the wider system about the impact that these issues are having; and to set out the steps that we and others will take to address their concerns.”

The survey was completed by 51,956 doctors in training and 19,193 trainers between 20 March to 9 May this year.

Executive director of Education and Quality & national medical director at Health Education England Professor Wendy Reid said: “Health Education England recognises the issues that the latest GMC national training survey raises. We know that being a junior doctor is rewarding, but it is also challenging, and can be more stressful when there is poor rota planning or lack of support.”

Prof Reid noted that support and collaboration is needed from the whole NHS and medical profession.

BMA junior doctors committee chair Dr Jeeves Wijesuriya said:  "The BMA has warned of the physical and emotional toll that long hours, anti-social rotas and unsafe staffing levels can take on junior doctors and we hope that these survey results will prompt employers, politicians and policymakers to take action.

"Junior doctors miss training opportunities because there are not enough staff to fill rotas and because their trainers don’t have the time to provide the education and mentoring they need. It is more important than ever that high quality training with expert clinical supervision is not neglected.”

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