High stress and burn out among young hospital doctors

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Close to two-thirds of young hospital doctors say they are under intolerable strain that is damaging their physical or mental health, according to a new survey.

A survey of the working lives of 2,300 trainee anaesthetists, carried out by the Royal College of Anaesthetists (RCoA), found 64% of trainees felt their job had affected their physical health, and 61% their mental health. It also highlighted high levels of fatigue and disillusionment, with 85% of respondents at risk of becoming burned out, despite being at the beginning of their careers.

Some 62% of respondents said they had gone without food during a shift in the last month and 75% had not had enough to drink. Longer hours were also cited by almost all, with 95% of respondents reporting that they stay on after their shift.

Chronic staffing shortages in hospitals has meant trainees are being asked to work around six extra shifts a month to cover gaps in rotas.

Trainee anaesthetists say they are ‘exhausted, frustrated and burned out’, and ‘totally fed up’ with the system. Some have considered quitting a career in medicine, or moving abroad to practise, due to poor work-life balance and low morale.

Dr Liam Brennan, President of the RCoA, said that he was ‘shocked’ by the survey results and that they should be a ‘wake-up call for the whole care system’.

‘The reports of deteriorating physical and mental health and burnout in doctors at the beginning of their career is a major concern,’ he said. ‘It is clear that it is the beleaguered system which is under intense pressure that is the cause of these worrying findings.’

Some trainee anaesthetists have reported fears over patient safety, a concern shared by the General Medical Council (GMC). Chief Executive of the GMC, Charlie Massey, commented: ‘These findings echo many of our own recent National Training Survey results, and raise concerns not just for trainees but also for patients and employers.’

He said pressure on the NHS is ‘eroding’ the time spent on training, development and recuperation.

‘Unless trainees are given the time needed to develop their knowledge and skills then we risk harm to all doctors, especially those training to be the senior doctors of the future, as well as the patients they care for,’ he said.