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Heavy workloads threaten training for doctors, warns GMC

Press Release

01 Dec 2016

Increasingly heavy workloads are eroding the time doctors have for training, according to the General Medical Council’s (GMC) annual survey of medical education and training in the UK.

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.

GMC Chief Executive Charlie Massey

The 2016 national training survey, which canvassed opinions from around 55,000 doctors in training, showed that while most doctors continue to rate their training experience positively, there were areas of concern.

It found that many doctors in training are working in healthcare systems which are under such significant and growing pressure that it threatens the training they need to become the next generation of GPs and consultants.

Over half of doctors in training reported that they regularly work beyond their rostered hours, and up to 25% said their working patterns left them sleep-deprived on a weekly basis – a worsening trend in recent years.

Overall, more than 43% of doctors reported their daytime workload as ‘very heavy’ or ‘heavy’, an increase since 2012. Key specialties – including emergency medicine, acute internal and general internal medicine, respiratory medicine, and gastroenterology – reported even higher workloads1 which have grown worse in the past five years.2

The survey found that doctors with excessive workloads were more likely to have to leave teaching sessions to answer clinical calls.

Other implications of too-heavy workloads include doctors in training being forced to cope with clinical problems beyond their competence and having inadequate handovers with colleagues.

The GMC’s analysis also found that rota gaps were a significant issue for many doctors in training, and the regulator will investigate this further by adding questions into future national training surveys.

The GMC also surveyed 23,000 trainers, most of whom said they enjoyed their role, but many felt they lacked sufficient time to fulfil it as well as they would like. One in three said they didn’t have enough time to deliver training.

The GMC’s Chief Executive, Charlie Massey, has written to employers – trusts and boards – reminding them of their obligations to ensure training of doctors is protected.3

He 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 and patients are directly at risk if support and supervision of doctors in training is inadequate.

‘We have clear standards about protecting doctors’ training, and valuing trainers, that we expect education bodies and providers to meet. Where our standards are not met, we can and we will take action.4

‘Despite these areas of concern, the survey findings highlight a tremendous amount of high-quality training that’s taking place across the UK. The high regard doctors have for their training, and those who provide it, is clear.’

The results of the national training survey come a month after the GMC raised concerns, in its annual report The state of medical education and practice in the UK, that large numbers of doctors in training feel undervalued and are working in healthcare systems which are under significant and growing pressure.

Notes to editors

1. The percentage of doctors in training reporting their daytime workload as ‘very heavy’ or ‘heavy’ in the GMC’s 2016 national training survey included: emergency medicine (78.4%), gastroenterology (63%), respiratory medicine (61%), general internal medicine (60%) and acute internal medicine (59.7%).

2. In the GMC’s 2012 national training survey, the following percentage of doctors training in the above specialties reported their daytime workload as ‘very heavy’ or ‘heavy’: emergency medicine (72.38%), gastroenterology (60.18%), respiratory medicine (56.65%), general internal medicine (50.45%) and acute internal medicine (46.55%).

3. Text of the GMC's letter to employers.

4. Options open to the GMC in such cases can include targeted visits or inspections; referral to our enhanced monitoring process; or even, in extreme cases, removing doctors from their training environment or provider.

The 2016 national training survey key findings report is available online.

Full results from the 2016 national training survey are available via online reporting tools.

The General Medical Council (GMC) is an independent organisation that helps to protect patients and improve medical education and practice across the UK.

  • We decide which doctors are qualified to work here and we oversee UK medical education and training.
  • We set the standards that doctors need to follow, and make sure that they continue to meet these standards throughout their careers.
  • We take action when we believe a doctor may be putting the safety of patients, or the public’s confidence in doctors, at risk.

We are not here to protect doctors – their interests are protected by others. Our job is to protect the public.

We are independent of government and the medical profession and accountable to Parliament. Our powers are given to us by Parliament through the Medical Act 1983.

We are a registered charity (number 1089278 with the Charity Commission for England and Wales, and number SC037750 with the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator), we have to show that our aims are for public benefit.

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