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Chair's focus

Portrait of Chaand Nagpaul

To care for doctors' wellbeing is to care for the health of the nation

The BMA has long publicised the vital importance of doctors' wellbeing and mental health, both for themselves and for patient care. This was the most important message that came out of our Caring, Supportive, Collaborative policy project, which demonstrated that doctors are working in a climate of unfair systemic pressures, beyond their contracted hours, and living in fear of being blamed for medical errors beyond their control.   

Earlier this year we published past BMA president Dinesh Bhugra’s mental health project report, which found that 80% of surveyed doctors were at high or very high risk of burnout.

It is therefore of note that, last Friday, the GMC (General Medical Council) published the findings of a UK-wide review into the wellbeing of doctors and students.

The review considered BMA research including results from our quarterly surveys, policy work on fatigue and wellbeing at work, as well as our mental health project. The review team, which was led by Professor Michael West and Dame Denise Coai, also received verbal evidence from a range of senior BMA members – including representatives of our GP, junior doctor, medical student and SAS doctor committees and from the devolved nations.

The report finds:

  • There is abundant evidence that workplace stress in healthcare organisations affects quality of care for patients as well as doctors' own health.
  • The wellbeing of doctors is vital because it is linked to a significant problem with retaining doctors.
  • Our aim should be to ensure that the NHS is a model for the world, in creating workplaces that support doctors and other healthcare staff by promoting their mental health and wellbeing.
  • We must build on good practice and these initiatives to create the conditions to ensure the NHS attracts, supports and retains its doctors.

The report's link between staff wellbeing and retention is echoed in our own studies in which we found that employees who feel well cared for are 27% more likely to stay for their current employer for more than five years.

The link between doctors' wellbeing and patient outcomes is indisputable. Evidence shows that doctors facing burnout have between a 45% and 63% higher possibility of making a major medical error. Conversely, organisations that emphasise staff wellbeing provide better patient care and register higher levels of patient satisfaction.

I welcome that the report has endorsed crucial recommendations to improve working conditions, including calling for the full implementation of work championed by the junior doctors committee including their fatigue and facilities charter and good rostering guide.

The BMA is analysing this report and will provide feedback in our dialogue with the GMC. We will clearly want to see implementation of the report’s recommendations so that it results in a real improvement to the working experience and wellbeing of doctors.

Meanwhile I would remind you that the BMA provides comprehensive wellbeing and support services for doctors and medical students, including a 24-hour confidential counselling service and 1-2-1 peer support from other doctors. Find out more about the support we offer. 

In addition, the NHS Practitioner Health Programme led by medical director Clare Gerada offers treatment for doctors with mental health or addiction issues.  

The health service can only be as healthy as the medical professionals who make it work, and quite literally to care for doctors' wellbeing is to care for the health of the nation.