Survey digs deeper into why doctors are at risk of burnout

GP consultation
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A recent report on doctors’ work/life balance has found that one in two have considered leaving the profession for reasons of personal wellbeing and 40% feel unable to take a break during the day.

The report, Breaking the Burnout Cycle, from the Medical Protection Society (MPS), looked at six areas of practitioners’ work/life according to a psychological methodology created at the University of California: workload, control, reward, community, fairness and values.

A lack of regular breaks was affecting patient outcomes, the study claimed, while a lack of control was evident from figures such as 65% agreeing that it’s difficult to say no when asked to take on additional tasks and 25% not feeling able to practise to the standard they believe they’re capable of.

The report said: “To feel satisfied and competent in our jobs, we need to have a sense that we are in control of our tasks and their outcomes. A lack of control can lead to a job that is in direct conflict with our own values. Like workload, control reflects the demand-control model of job stress. Doctors are more likely to burnout if they lack control over their work. Low autonomy and not being able to say ‘no’ scored high in our survey.”

In terms of “community”, doctors generally felt well supported by peers, but the figures were not so positive for “fairness” where 47% of respondents believed their clinics’ workloads were not evenly distributed and 37% felt there was no fair and equal approach to work/life balance policies such as flexible working.

The balance of responses suggested that GPs felt a conflict between the profession’s values and their personal goals with 30% revealing they too often or always felt disillusion with their work.

Tellingly, 44% did not feel encouraged by their line manager or GP partner to discuss wellbeing issues.

MPS, a non-profit organisation for doctors and other healthcare professionals that undertakes work on complaints and clinical negligence claims, noted that the problems being experienced by medics were not restricted to the UK.

Professor Dame Jane Dacre, MPS president said: “The increasing levels of burnout I encounter as I talk to colleagues is extremely troubling. It is perhaps one of the great paradoxes of our age, that modern medicine allows doctors to do more for their patients than ever before, yet increasing evidence shows that doctors feel burnt out and disillusioned in ever greater numbers.

“The causes of burnout have been widely debated and include the growing demands and complexity of the job, a faster pace of work and tighter financial constraints.

“The problem is also not unique to the UK, to the NHS or to any one specialty. It is a global phenomenon affecting all clinicians.”

Recommendations in the report include making wellbeing part of staff surveys and including it in KPIs and corporate objectives. Training in resilience should be undertaken by all staff and occupational health teams should be involved in planning psychological safety in the workplace. There were also recommendations for action to be taken by the private health sector, NHS bodies, the Care Quality Commission and the Department for Health and Social Care.

Sue Covill, director of development and employment at NHS Employers, said staff undertook “heroic” work on a daily basis “but we must remember they are human, too. The findings and recommendations of the report highlight the challenging conditions in which our teams work. We welcome the recommendations and will continue to work with employers to ensure doctors feel supported in their workplaces.”

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