GMC report underlines devastating impact of pandemic on the medical workforce, says BMA

Press release from the BMA

Location: UK
Last reviewed: 15 December 2021
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Responding to the General Medical Council’s State of Medical Education and Practice in the UK 2021 report1, published today (Wednesday 15th December), Dr Latifa Patel, BMA interim representative body chair and workforce lead said:

“This timely report, published as frontline doctors are working under some of the most intense pressures they’ve ever faced – and which are set to get even worse in the coming days, weeks and months – underlines the devastating impact that the pandemic has had on the dedicated medical workforce, and reinforces why looking after and retaining staff must be an absolute priority now and in the months and years to come.

“We know that all doctors have gone above and beyond during the pandemic, but findings such as today’s show that this has come at the expense of their own wellbeing, with almost a third of doctors being unable to cope with their workload and 17% at high risk of burnout as a result. That almost one in five doctors has had to take time off with stress during the last year is a sobering statistic.

“Unsustainable workloads do not just impact doctors – but they directly affect the care they can offer patients. More than a quarter of doctors told the GMC that they had witnessed a situation where the safety of care had been compromised in the last year, with workload pressures and delays being the most common underlying reasons given. This chimes with the BMA’s own surveys, the most recent of which found that eight in 10 doctors who responded were more concerned than a year ago that patients would come to harm because of delays in admitting them to hospital, while a similar proportion said they were not confident about their department’s ability to manage demand this winter.

“What’s notable is that the GMC’s research was carried out in the summer – long before the arrival of Omicron and the potential this highly-transmissible strain has to further overwhelm services. Doctors are exhausted and extremely apprehensive about the coming winter months – quite simply many have nothing left to give.

“This survey shows almost a quarter of doctors planning to leave to profession – with a rising number taking steps towards this. Meanwhile, more than a third are considering reducing their clinical hours. With an estimated shortage of 50,000 doctors in the NHS in England when compared proportionately to our closest EU neighbours, such a loss of expertise, as the NHS faces a record backlog of care, would be disastrous for patient care. Retaining these highly-skilled doctors must therefore be a priority, both by focusing on supporting their wellbeing, but also in addressing the punitive pension taxation rules that often prevent senior doctors taking on work, or in the more serious cases force them to retire early. Meanwhile, we must end restrictive immigration rules so that the UK remains an attractive destination for international doctors to come to and to stay, while properly supporting our overseas colleagues once they arrive and are working in the NHS.

“In the longer-term, these figures underline the need for the Government to lay out a comprehensive NHS workforce plan to meet the needs of the population. The BMA, alongside more than 60 other high-profile organisations, has been pushing for an amendment to the Health and Care Bill that would hold ministers to account, ensuring they regularly assess how many doctors we need now and in the future, demonstrating their commitment to safe staffing and, ultimately, safe patient care.”


Notes to editors

The BMA is a professional association and trade union 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. Please contact the GMC for a copy of the report.