Overworked trainee doctors fear patient safety put at risk

Trainee doctors reported that they are often forced to cope with situations beyond their competence. Picture: Getty Images

Trainee doctors reported that they are often forced to cope with situations beyond their competence. Picture: Getty Images

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Trainee doctors are working beyond their competence because of huge workloads and many are worried about patient safety, according to a new report.

A poll for the General Medical Council (GMC) of 55,000 UK doctors in training saw 43 per cent describe their daytime workload as “very heavy” or “heavy”. This rose to 78 per cent of doctors in emergency medicine, with workloads in all areas having worsened over the last five years.

A survey of trainee doctors found many were having to work beyond their competence due to a 'heavy' or 'very heavy' workload.

A survey of trainee doctors found many were having to work beyond their competence due to a 'heavy' or 'very heavy' workload.

In Scotland, more than 38 per cent found their workload too high, while half reported working beyond their agreed hours and 21 per cent said their working patterns left them sleep-deprived on a weekly basis.

Dr Chris Sheridan, chairman of BMA Scotland’s junior doctors ­committee, said: “This report provides further evidence of the fact doctors are finding it harder and harder to meet the rapidly increasing demands the NHS in Scotland is facing.

“While we acknowledge that there has been progress on junior ­doctor working hours in recent years, it is essential that we keep doing more to ensure that trainee doctors have a workload that is both manageable and safe, particularly at a time when the NHS in Scotland is coming under increasing pressure.”

The damning survey found doctors with the highest workloads were six times more likely to feel forced to cope with clinical problems beyond their competence on a daily or weekly basis.

It said: “This has worrying implications for the safety of patients, doctors in training, and public confidence. Our standards are clear that doctors in training should not be expected to find themselves in such a situation.”

The GMC warned that many doctors in training are working under such pressure that it threatens the training they need to become GPs and consultants.

It said: “Poor-quality training, whether it’s to a low standard, rushed or interrupted, correlates with a higher ­likelihood of patient safety concerns, and with working environments that are not conducive to doctors raising concerns.”

GMC chief executive Charlie Massey said: “We know the very real pressures our healthcare services are under and appreciate the challenges organisations involved with the training of doctors are facing, but it is vital training is not eroded.

“Those responsible and accountable for the delivery of medical education locally must take appropriate steps to ensure the training of doctors remains protected.

“Medical training is so often a bellwether for the quality and safety of patient care.”

One in three trainers said they did not have enough time to deliver the necessary training, despite many saying they enjoyed their role.

The results present a “stark warning” over risks to patient safety and public confidence, according to Professor Neena Modi, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

She said: “I urge government to hear this latest stark message from the GMC and act quickly to support trainees to access the training they need in a properly funded health service.”

Professor Stewart Irvine, medical director of NHS Education for Scotland, which delivers training for NHS staff, said: “The annual GMC surveys of doctors in training – and now of senior doctors supporting that training – are a vital contribution to understanding the experience of trainees and understanding the clinical environments in which they work and train.

“NES looks forward to working with the GMC, NHS Boards and the medical Royal Colleges in Scotland to make best use of this data to ensure that postgraduate medical training in Scotland is truly excellent.”

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