More than 2,300 trainee anaesthetists have responded to a survey carried out by the Royal College of Anaesthetists. The aim of the study was to assess the morale, levels of happiness and work satisfaction of trainees inside hospitals.

Two thirds of respondents said their physical or mental health were affected by the pressures at work, 62% said they had gone through a shift in the last month without a meal, 75% said they were working without hydrating themselves and 28% said they had stayed at work more than two hours after their shift to ensure another doctor was available to take over.

President of the college Dr Liam Brennan said, “the results showed that 85% of trainees are at risk of burning out despite only being in their 20s and 30s. That's shocking. We are not talking about people who have done this for years. These are people who are at the early stage of their careers and that makes me really anxious for the future.”

Trainee healthcare professionals face various problems

A recent survey by MIMS revealed that 50.3% of all healthcare providers surveyed in Malaysia and Singapore, had skipped one to three meals a week. In fact, the survey also revealed that in Malaysia, a 27-year-old anaesthesiologist died following an accident whilst driving home, because she was so tired. This echoes a much-publicised story from China last year of an overworked doctor who coughed up blood after a 32-hour shift.

One reason for this is an increasingly poor work-life balance. Long hours combined with exams means there is very little time for family and friends. Although, there is plenty of debate on the work-life balance a doctor can expect, given the nature of the profession.

Many have considered quitting, with some looking at alternative careers and others going abroad to practise. Ross Farrar is one such doctor who, after just two years working in the NHS, has decided to move to Australia. Despite such a short stint, Farrar admits he “couldn’t imagine morale being much lower” in the NHS.

Chronic understaffing is another big problem in hospitals and means that trainees are being asked to work six extra shifts a month to cover for gaps, the survey found. Recruitment problems are acute in some parts of the country.

Farrar felt obliged to volunteer to work extra weekends just to ensure colleagues were not left alone on intimidatingly busy hospital wards. He says, “staying late for patient safety almost every day on some jobs gradually leads to you feeling tired... You find you have worked well over your contracted hours without realising it.”

It is not just the long hours at work; staff members are also not able to get time away from the hospital wards. Many are unable to take annual leave because there is never a safe period with enough staff. Timetable coordinators are so busy ensuring gaps are filled that fitting in holiday time is almost impossible.

Trainee psychiatrist Mohsin Khan said, “it can be very hard to get leave, even for important events such as a wedding. The notice is often very short for new placements – and you can be expected to move halfway across the country to start a new job less than a day after finishing the last one.”

The future of Britain’s medical staff is uncertain

Trainees are so pushed for time in fact that they are often unable to attend training sessions. Khan says, “I've often seen doctors not go to the teaching sessions offered because they're trying to catch up on their paperwork.”

Charlie Massey, chief executive of the General Medical Council, which regulates the medical profession says, “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.”

Ultimately, all of this has had an effect on the goodwill of NHS staff. Simon Fleming, trainee in trauma and orthopaedics says, “the NHS survives on the goodwill of its staff and recent events have tarnished that goodwill – not towards each other but towards the institutions that would ask us to go above and beyond.”

Khan’s plea is straightforward: “Give us manageable rotas, recognise that we have lives outside work as well, and provide the support and resources we need to care for patients.” MIMS

Read more:
Sabbaticals for doctors: Should physicians take time off of work?
Are strikes by healthcare workers ethical?
Pay-for-performance incentives do not work in healthcare

Sources:
https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/feb/11/stressed-out-doctors-anaesthetists-survey-nhs
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/burning-out-survey-royal-college-anesthetists-nhs-a7576196.html
https://www.bma.org.uk/news/2016/november/junior-doctors-the-blight-of-low-morale-and-burnout