Doctors say that burnout is contributing to their poor mental health
“Being present in an environment where people aren’t receiving the care they deserve is really difficult and takes a huge emotional toll. “We’re in a place where treating patients in corridors and waiting rooms has been normalised – we’re being forced to deliver a substandard level of care due to a decade of poor government planning.” Dr Matthew Lee, junior doctor
Half of doctors have experienced poor health in the last 12 months, according to figures from the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association obtained by the Sunday People.
Of the doctors surveyed, 77% attributed their mental ill-health to burnout, while 73% blamed anxiety.
Separate figures published by the British Medical Association (BMA) show that the organisation provided free mental health support to 13,047 members in the last two years – double the 6,224 who were provided with support between 2019 and 2020. Dr Andrew Molodynski, mental health policy lead at the BMA, said: “Doctors are working at a time of unprecedented pressure amid serious staffing shortages, which can take an incredible toll on their wellbeing. Many doctors are feeling completely burnt out – with many considering leaving the NHS altogether.”
Dr Matthew Lee, a junior doctor in North Wales who needed counselling after struggling with his mental health, and a representative for the Doctors Association UK, told the paper: “Being present in an environment where people aren’t receiving the care they deserve is really difficult and takes a huge emotional toll. “We’re in a place where treating patients in corridors and waiting rooms has been normalised – we’re being forced to deliver a substandard level of care due to a decade of poor government planning.”
Dr Rebecca Bates, 28, a paediatrician, said: “Having time with patients to explain what’s happening to them, and reassure them in the night when they’re worried, is very important but we’re not getting the time to do that. It’s difficult not to bring this home with you but you have to dismiss the feelings because you have to sleep, eat and be up ready for another shift in the morning.”
She added that it was common to go a full 12-hour shift without a break: “I was doing cover Monday through to Thursday and didn’t get a single break for four days.”
Doctors are also being hit hard by the cost-of-living crisis. A BMA survey of junior doctors in December last year found that 45.3% had struggled to afford their rent or mortgage and 50.8% had experienced difficulty in paying to heat and light their homes in the past year. Three in ten had used their overdraft for consecutive months to pay bills and 27% had not repaid their credit card borrowing for consecutive months. About half had needed to borrow money from family or friends in the last twelve months as their wages failed to rise with inflation.
It’s not surprising to see that the severe pressures on the NHS are taking their toll on doctors’ mental health. The lengthy waiting list, which now has more than seven million patients, will continue to grow if medical professionals are suffering with their own mental health problems. The government urgently needs to publish a workforce strategy to address staff shortages, but we also need to look at more imaginative ways to reduce pressure. Digital tools (used, for example, in remote monitoring of heart problems, or to support patients’ mental health) can help reduce the burden. As the Centre for Mental Health has pointed out, however, we also need to be aware that not everyone is able to access such digital tools, and not all medical professionals have had sufficient training to enable them to provide a quality service. FCC will be launching a report and guide at the end of the month focusing on the usage and uptake of digital tools, which in turn is supporting a larger commissioning tool with national partners.