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Majority of doctors at high risk of ‘burnout’ as BMA shines light on mental health crisis

Eight out of 10 doctors are at substantial risk of burnout and more than ever have been diagnosed with a mental health condition, a major report by the BMA has revealed.

More than a quarter of the 4,300 respondents to the BMA’s survey said they had previous, formal diagnoses of mental conditions and four out of 10 said they were suffering from psychological or emotional stress affecting their work, training or study.

The survey, part of a larger BMA project to find ways to improve the mental health of the medical workforce, “lays bare” the human cost of stress, pressure and an unsustainable workload on NHS staff.

Around 90% of the respondents admitted their working environment had contributed to their condition, whilst one in three confessed to resorting to alcohol, drugs or self-prescribing as a way to get through their shifts.

The BMA pointed to long hours and heavy workloads experienced by doctors and medical students, pushing them towards a “burnout.” The survey uncovered “worrying evidence of inadequate or no support for doctors when sought.”

The survey also found that junior doctors, medical students and those working longer hours are more likely to suffer from mental ill health.

BMA president Dinesh Bhurga said: “This report shines an important light on the alarming mental health crisis currently burdening the medical workforce as the link between the current pressures on doctors and poor mental health can no longer be ignored.

“Medical students are surprisingly stressed, which is a bad sign, as these are some of the most energetic, enthusiastic people who want to help people by going into medicine.

“Informally, I’ve heard that some of these stresses come from financial problems and debt. They are also feeling that as they learn on simulators, on dolls and with actors, that they do not develop the same empathy with patients.

“The longer people struggle on without support, the more chronic their conditions become, the more difficult it is to treat.”

He said he was concerned about the lack of support in some medical schools, and said the BMA should examine how terms and conditions in which people learn and practise can be improved.

A separate study from Swansea University was also published this month reporting on junior doctors’ experience of mental illness and how trainees’ were reluctant to disclose their illness for fear of the effects on their careers.

One doctor told the researchers that they got to the point they were “almost catatonic in my room all the time,” whilst another was told by a colleague “if you’re crying this much you shouldn’t be a consultant.”

Bhurga added: “We must create spaces where all doctors, trainees, GPs, can go for support. We invest a tremendous amount of money in training doctors to leave them to fall by the wayside. It just isn’t fair on them or society.”



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