NHS England extends mental health support for doctors

A new mental health support scheme for all NHS doctors in England has been launched to help those in the profession cope with the pressures of the role.

The programme, which will be available to 110,000 more doctors, builds upon a similar scheme for GPs and trainee doctors that was introduced in 2017 and will provide confidential support for those suffering from poor mental health.

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said: “The NHS is significantly improving mental health treatment for patients, but sometimes their doctors need our support too.

“This new funding will help all NHS doctors by providing a safe, confidential non-stigmatising service to turn to when they are struggling and need help.

“It means the NHS will now have the most comprehensive national mental health support offer to doctors of any country’s health system in the world. Ultimately it will be patients and not just their doctors who will benefit.”

The announcement was made as the Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) and The Louise Tebboth Foundation published a report that showed UK doctors were at greater risk of work-related stress, burnout and depression than the general population.

The report – What could make a difference to the mental health of UK doctors? – looked at research that had already been carried out to develop a picture of UK doctors’ mental health.

It highlighted a survey of 2,230 GPs carried out by the trade publication Pulse, which found that 74% of GPs felt emotionally exhausted.

Moreover, data from the 2017 NHS Staff Survey revealed that 33% of consultants and 36% of trainee doctors felt unwell because of work-related stress in the previous 12 months, while a BMA survey in 2017 showed 61% felt their stress-levels had increased over the previous year.

Although the proportion varied depending on their specialty, between 30% and 40% of UK doctors said they felt “burnt out” and stressed because of their work.

The report also noted that the suicide rate for doctors has been estimated at between two and five times the general population, with female doctors at higher risk of suicide than men.

Its recommendations included:

  • the provision of more mental health support for doctors from recruitment to retirement, with more effective communication of the support available;
  • encouraging doctors to take up the support on offer;
  • improving awareness of the impact doctors’ working conditions have on their health, with appropriate interventions to eliminate or reduce exposure to poor working conditions;
  • introducing processes which encourage better support at work, such as mentoring; and
  • building a culture within medicine that recognises how the job can affect doctors’ wellbeing and promotes self-care – starting from their first year in medical school.

Professor Gail Kinman of the University of Bedfordshire, one of the report’s authors, said: “The poor mental health evident among UK doctors and the implications for themselves and their patients should be of grave concern to all healthcare stakeholders. Action is urgently required to address a working environment that can be toxic to health.”

Co-author Dr Kevin Teoh, of Birkbeck, University of London, added: “It is crucial to provide doctors with more support from recruitment to retirement and develop a culture that challenges the mental health stigma and encourages help-seeking.”

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