Close to a third of UK doctors may suffer from burnout

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Almost a third of UK doctors may be suffering from burnout, stress and “compassion fatigue”. The Guardian reports that according to a survey by researchers at Queens University Belfast Centre for Public Health, that has raised concern about excessive workloads in the National Health Service (NHS). A&E doctors and GPs are the most likely to feel burnt out. They have the highest levels of exhaustion and stress, the survey found.

The findings of the biggest published survey of its kind underline the emotional impact on many doctors of working in an NHS that is under the most intense pressure in its 71-year history.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association, said: “Years of systemic underfunding and serious workforce shortages mean NHS doctors are working longer hours in highly pressured, understaffed environments, and their wellbeing is suffering as a result.”

The report says the findings are based on responses from 1,651 doctors who filled in a survey distributed by medical royal colleges last autumn. An NHS spokesperson said: “Staff are the lifeblood of the NHS, which is why we are now for the first time offering the most comprehensive national mental health support offer to doctors of any health system in the world and are committed to doing similarly with other staff groups, as part of our NHS long-term plan.”

Aims: This cross-sectional study aimed to assess resilience, professional quality of life and coping mechanisms in UK doctors. It also aimed to assess the impact of demographic variables, such as sex, grade and specialty on these factors.
Methods: During October and November 2018, medical doctors in the UK were eligible to complete an online survey made up of validated psychological instruments. Royal Colleges and other medical organisations invited their membership to participate via newsletters, email invitations, websites and social media.

Results: 1651 doctors participated from a wide range of specialties and grades across the UK. The mean resilience score was 65.01 (SD 12.3), lower than population norms. Of those who responded, 31.5% had high burnout (BO), 26.2% had high secondary traumatic stress and 30.7% had low compassion satisfaction (CS). Doctors who responded from emergency medicine were more burned out than any other specialty group (F=2.62, p=0.001, df 14). Those who responded from general practice scored lowest for CS (F=6.43, p<0.001, df 14). 120 (8%) doctors met the criteria for all three of high BO, high STS and low CS. The most frequently reported coping mechanism was the maladaptive strategy of self-distraction.
Conclusions: One-third of UK doctors who responded are burned out and suffering from STS. Those who responded from emergency medicine and general practice appear to be suffering the most. Over 100 doctors fell into the at-risk category of high BO, high STS and low CS. Future analysis of the free text responses from doctors may help to identify factors that are playing a role in the high levels of BO and STS being reported by medical staff.

Nicola McKinley, R Scott McCain, Liam Convie, Mike Clarke, Martin Dempster, William Jeffrey Campbell, Stephen James Kirk

Full report in The Guardian

BMJ Open Journal abstract

See also

Registrar burnout at Wits far exceeds international norms

We all have a role in tackling the burnout endemic

Practitioner burnout contributing to clinical errors — MPS survey

‘I gave up medicine to save my mental health’

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