Nearly a Third of UK Doctors Experience Burnout

Tim Locke

December 22, 2018

Nearly a third of 968 UK doctors (32%) responding to a Medscape UK survey reported feeling burned out at some stage and 14% said they were depressed.

Work was the main cause of doctor's depression and this is having a negative effect on relationships with patients and colleagues.

Specific work-related burnout factors were too much bureaucracy, long working hours, and a lack of respect from managers, colleagues, or staff, plus not being paid enough for the job.

The top requests for helping to reduce burnout were reduced patient loads, more manageable hours, and gaining more respect from managers, staff, and colleagues, and better pay.

Of those doctors reporting burnout or depression most do not seek help, even when workplace schemes are available.

Many of those who experienced burnout (52%) have considered taking early retirement or leaving medicine altogether (37%).

However, more than a third of all doctors did report being very or extremely happy with their working lives.

The report also found significant numbers of doctors not taking the recommended amount of exercise each week, 5% still smoke, and 40% exceed the weekly alcohol limits.

'Doctors at High Risk of Stress, Burnout'

Medscape News UK asked the Society of Occupational Medicine to comment on our findings. In October it produced a report finding that UK doctors are at greater risk of burnout, stress, and mental health issues than the general public.

That report was co-authored by Professor of Occupational Health Psychology, Gail Kinman, at the University of Bedfordshire. Responding to the Medscape UK survey she told us: "The findings of the survey closely correspond with our recently published review of mental health in UK doctors. 

"It confirms that doctors are at high risk of stress, burnout, and mental health problems and that work, specifically high workload, long hours, and lack of respect and recognition, are among the main causes. 

"The survey also highlights the implications for patient outcomes as well as the wellbeing of doctors themselves, which is of major concern. 

"Participants have identified some ways to reduce the risk of burnout in medicine, which can inform interventions to improve wellbeing. Nonetheless, supporting the findings of our own report, disclosing mental health problems is highly stigmatised among doctors. Developing an open and honest culture that encourages help seeking at an early stage is therefore crucial."

GPs Under Pressure

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, also commented on the Medscape UK survey, saying: "GPs are under unprecedented pressures and we are working harder than ever, often putting in 12-hour days in clinic and on some days having to make more than 100 patient contacts to cope with the workload. Unfortunately, it's no surprise to hear that a high proportion of our colleagues are struggling with stress and burnout.

"Workload in general practice has increased by at least 16% over the last 7 years, both in volume and complexity, but the share of the NHS budget our profession receives is less than it was a decade ago.

"As a result, talented and experienced GPs are reaching breaking point, with many feeling like they have no choice but to leave the profession prematurely because of the risk to their own health and wellbeing.

"There comes a point beyond which we can no longer guarantee safe patient care and much more needs to be done to solve the root cause of the workload and resource pressures primary care teams are dealing with.

"Being a GP can be the best job in the world, as long as it is properly resourced and supported – and we are hugely encouraged by the fact that we have more GPs in training than ever before.

"But it takes 5 years to train a GP from graduating as a doctor, and our family doctor service needs support and investment now. That’s why we need to see NHS England’s GP Forward View, which promises an extra £2.4bn a year for general practice and 5000 more GPs to be delivered in full and as a matter of urgency, as well as an extra £2.5bn a year as part of the forthcoming NHS long-term plan for general practice.

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