Warning Over Disrupted Training for Doctors During Pandemic

Peter Russell

October 22, 2020

More than 8 in 10 junior doctors said disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic had interrupted training they needed to apply for more senior posts, the General Medical Council (GMC) acknowledged.

Commenting on its latest annual training survey, the GMC said it was committed to finding ways that doctors could continue with their learning, despite continuing pressures on NHS resources.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said it was essential that training was ring- fenced to ensure that today's junior doctors could become the GPs and consultants of tomorrow.

GMC Chief Executive Charlie Massey said: "The disruption the pandemic has had on doctors in training and trainers cannot be underestimated. Our survey shows us that trainees and trainers alike believe important training has been missed."

Training 'Reduced Significantly'

The latest survey was more limited in scope than in previous years because of the impact of coronavirus. Of the more than 38,000 doctors who responded, around three-fifths of trainees, and four-fifths of trainers, said their work had changed significantly during the peak of the pandemic in the spring.

  • 38% of doctors said their opportunities to progress their career had been reduced significantly

  • 43% said opportunities had been reduced slightly

  • 51% reported concerns about their own safety or the safety of colleagues

Although changes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic left many doctors working "at the edge of their comfort zone", the survey revealed some positive outcomes.

Most trainees and trainers said they valued teamwork and the support they received in a pressured environment.

Most trainees (85%) and trainers (73%) said that their health trust or board provided a supportive environment.

"It is important to recognise that, while formal training has inevitably been disrupted, the pandemic is a learning experience for us all," commented Mr Massey. "The experience doctors gain during these challenging times will be valuable for their future careers."

Challenge of a Second Wave

Responding to the findings, Dr Rob Harwood, chair of the BMA consultants committee, said: "It is vitally important that high-quality training with expert supervision is not neglected at this time. We must ensure that trainee doctors are given the mentoring, experience, and support to ensure we have a new generation of professionals to take us through, and beyond, the current pandemic."

Dr Michael FitzPatrick, co-chair of the Royal College of Physicians' Trainees Committee said: "The increased workload experienced by medical trainers is striking and we must ensure that clinical training is not damaged in the long-term by COVID-19."

He added: "It's also worth us remembering that the second wave is likely to feel very different to the first as the NHS is working hard to keep non-COVID services open as long as possible. This will mean that redeployment within the NHS should be significantly reduced, but this will place even greater pressure on physicians caring for acutely unwell patients."

NHS Providers said the survey results were "worrying".

Miriam Deakin, its director of policy and strategy, said: it supported plans "to explore with health service leaders how to embed a flexible training approach that's more responsive to future demands and events".

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