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01.12.16

Junior doctors claim excessive stress putting patient safety at risk

Junior doctors are now suffering from such severe stress that it is harming their health and could have an impact on patient safety, according to a new survey from the Royal College of Physicians (RCP).

Four out of five junior doctors said that their job ‘sometimes’ or ‘often’ caused them excessive stress, over half thought it had harmed their physical health, and a quarter believed it had affected their mental health.

When asked what issues were having a negative impact on their patients’ safety, 52% stated junior doctor rota gaps, half highlighted poor staff morale, and two-fifths blamed excessive administrative work.

Jane Dacre, president of the RCP, said: “The findings today show that poor access to even basic facilities, gaps in rotas and the constant pressures of administration, often taking them away from treating patients, is having a stark impact on the mental and physical health of our junior doctors.

“Medicine is a brilliant profession with so many possibilities to enhance the lives of the patients we treat. We need to fund our NHS and social care services so that all staff are able to provide safe and effective care, but also have the ability to thrive.”

The report also found that junior doctors were struggling to access basic nutrition throughout shifts, which can last for up to 12 hours. Over half had gone through at least one shift in the past month without eating a meal and nearly three-quarters had worked one without drinking enough water.

Despite this, 94% of junior doctors said they felt valued by their consultant, and 96% by their patients. However, only 30% thought the chief executive of their hospital or trust valued them.

Dr Carol Postlethwaite, chair of the RCP trainees committee, said: “For too long, being a junior doctor has felt like trench warfare. This report exposes trainees experiences and explains how reoccurring institutional failures to care about their health, welfare and training needs has damaged morale and is forcing many away from the frontline.

“We see this in daily rota gaps where there are simply not enough doctors to provide safe patient care.”

The RCP has also published ‘Keeping medicine brilliant’, a new set of guidance on improving doctors’ working conditions. Recommendations included using new ways of working to redistribute workloads, and creating specific rest areas for acute medical teams.

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