Doctors’ morale is at rock bottom, BMA says, in response to the GMC National Training Survey

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA

Location: UK
Published: Tuesday 19 July 2022
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Responding to the findings of the GMC National Training Survey 20221, in which two-thirds of trainee doctors said they ‘always’ or ‘often’ felt worn out at the end of a working day, Dr Sarah Hallett and Dr Mike Kemp, BMA junior doctors committee co-chairs, said:

“This survey shows what junior doctors on the frontline know only too well; the sheer exhaustion of tackling a record patient backlog with insufficient staff and resources to provide patients with the care they need and deserve. That nearly half of trainee doctors (44%) are regularly exhausted in the morning at the thought of another day of work shows that morale is at rock bottom, with no signs of improvement on the horizon.

“The NHS is running on goodwill – the goodwill of staff like junior doctors - to clear the patient backlog, and it cannot carry on. Junior doctors are overworked and underpaid, routinely missing rest breaks, going hungry on long shifts, and working themselves into the ground. It’s clear to see that their training is suffering as a result, with more than a third of trainee doctors (38%) saying that they have not been provided with effective alternatives to missed training, and 20% not being able to participate in the expected number of workplace-based assessments.

“This is deeply worrying for the pipeline of future senior workforce in the NHS, as trainees in all medical specialties show an increased risk of burnout compared to last year. There must be a clear and public commitment from national bodies, which individual employers adhere to, that training opportunities will be protected in the face of service pressures resulting from the backlog of care. Junior doctors are the hospital consultants and GPs of the future and it is vital that their training is prioritised to ensure they are adequately skilled and prepared to meet future demand. Paying lip service to doctors’ wellbeing is not enough; action and accountability are needed to deliver real change.

“The result of continual Government neglect will be that doctors, pressured to continuously put their work before their own wellbeing, will be driven to their limits. This is unsafe for doctors and unsafe for patients. If the NHS cannot recruit or retain its staff, there will be even greater patient suffering as more staff leave. The Government must urgently address this by setting out specific details of how it plans to staff and resource the NHS appropriately, and properly reward and support the frontline staff who care for patients, or risk watching the NHS collapse before its eyes.”

Dr Simon Walsh, BMA consultants committee deputy chair, said:

“It is testament to the hard work and dedication of senior clinicians that the quality of medical training across the UK remains high, even as staff regularly face intolerable pressure at work.

“However, providing such consistently high levels of training to future doctors is not sustainable or safe in an environment where more than half of trainers (52%) are at moderate or high risk of burnout – and we are also deeply concerned about the experiences of junior doctors illustrated by this report’s findings. The NHS must give doctors the space and time they need to provide training; as currently more than half of trainers (55%) say they are not able to use all the training time allocated for that purpose, due to conflicting workload pressures.

“This is only compounded by the fact that nearly a fifth of trainers (18%) do not agree that their employer provides a supportive environment for everyone regardless of background, beliefs, or identity. This situation cannot be turned around by the Government simply imposing more targets on the NHS, but it must be addressed through wholesale cultural transformation. As numerous BMA reports recognise, healthcare professionals who work in supportive environments, where their wellbeing is a priority, are better able to give patients safe, high-quality care2. Compassionate leadership is essential to creating a supportive and inclusive learning environments that will be critical to retaining a diverse and highly talented medical workforce.

“As the Government itself has warned, the NHS backlog will only get worse before it gets better; it is therefore imperative that it listens to the voices of frontline doctors and takes action to stop them from leaving the NHS before their time. Reversing years of pay erosion and punitive pension tax rules that undervalue senior doctors’ experience and skill, and supporting their wellbeing, is part of the wholesale change that is needed to keep them in the health service so that they can continue to provide essential care to patients for years to come.”

Dr Kieran Sharrock, BMA England GP committee deputy chair, said:

“The Government must be held accountable for the NHS workforce crisis which, as these findings show, has taken a severe toll on the wellbeing of both GP trainers and trainees.

“Nearly three quarters (73%) of GP trainers said that they always or often feel worn out at the end of the working day and over a sixth (16%) of GP trainees said they work beyond their rostered hours on a daily basis. This unequivocally shows that the emotional intensity of the job cannot be underestimated, as no doctor in general practice is immune to the immense pressure on the health service, which is already compromising patient safety.

“Since 2015, despite Government promises to increase the number of GPs, we have actually lost the equivalent of 1,737 fully qualified, full time GPs3. With more than a sixth (16%) of doctors telling us they plan to leave the NHS altogether after the pandemic, this figure can only be expected to rise unabated, unless there is a plan in place to increase staffing and support their wellbeing4.

“The Government must urgently set out long-term plans to increase staffing across the NHS, backed up by independent workforce assessments. If it doesn’t urgently address the workforce crisis, doctors will be left with no choice but to take steps to protect their health and wellbeing, by reducing their hours or leaving medicine altogether, to the inevitable detriment of patient care.”

Ends

Notes to editors

The BMA is a trade union and professional association representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.

  1. The GMC National Training Survey 2022 is under embargo until 00:01, Tuesday 19 July 2022. Please contact the GMC with any questions about the survey data.
  2. The BMA has produced numerous reports on equality in medicine, including reports on racism, sexism and disability. For more information on these reports, please see the BMA’s webpage ‘Equality, diversity and inclusion at the BMA’.
  3. NHS Digital NHS General Practice Workforce Statistics
  4. BMA: Pressures in general practice data analysis