NHS doctor

Thousands of doctors considering leaving NHS: Feeling undervalued, burnt-out

New research published by the General Medical Council (GMC) has revealed why thousands of doctors are considering leaving the NHS and practising medicine abroad.

The Identifying groups of migrating doctors report found that, when doctors were asked on the likelihood of them moving to another country in the next 12 months, 13% said they were ‘very likely” while a further 17% said they were ‘fairly likely’.

Some of the reasons behind wanting to leave include feeling undervalued, a lack of progression opportunities, and disillusionment with the UK healthcare system.

“these findings highlight the urgency with which we must act”
General Medical Council

After analysing the survey of more than 3,000 doctors, researchers split the respondents into six groups:

  • Deep discontent – the most negative and those who are dissatisfied in many areas
  • System sceptics – doctors who are concerned about the direction of health systems and their working conditions, making them most likely to seek employment in other English speaking countries
  • Burnt-out – those who are exhausted and suffer from poor personal wellbeing and a bad work-life balance
  • Mobile career developers – people most concerned about career development barriers and thus could be tempted somewhere with better opportunities
  • Open to opportunity – doctors who a relatively happy in the UK but could consider an international job for a new challenge
  • Happy in the UK – the people most happy with working in the UK, but, due to there being a high proportion of doctors who qualified overseas, could return home at some point

In 2023, around 4,000 of the doctors who gave up their licence or left the medical register cited ‘going to practise abroad’ as one of their motivations.

More than 75% of doctors feel undervalued in their profession, especially with pay – addressing this would make them less likely to move overseas.

The report recommends targeting the ‘Deep discontent’, System sceptics’ and Burnt-out’ categories to make the biggest impact on retention, with improving general workplace conditions as a start.

“We accept that improvements are needed”
NHS Employers

The GMC’s chief executive, Charlie Massey, said: “This is a stark reminder of the challenges we face in the UK, but it also presents valuable insight into how healthcare leaders, employers and workforce planners can target interventions to improve conditions.”

He added that it will be much easier for the UK to stop somebody from leaving than it will be to persuade them to come back. “There are no easy fixes, but these findings highlight the urgency with which we must act,” he added.

Responding to the research, the chief executive of NHS Employers, Danny Mortimer, explained: “The last thing our members want in the face of mounting demand is for doctors to up sticks and leave the UK for good.

“We have very little idea how many doctors move abroad permanently though, and we would be keen for the GMC to publish this data so that the NHS and the public can see the scale of the problem.”

He added: “At the same time thinking about leaving, even if it is not followed through, is of concern. We accept that improvements are needed in the training and working lives of doctors.”

Image credit: iStock

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NHE May/June 2024

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