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Heavy workloads still an issue for many doctors in training, GMC survey shows

Press Release

04 Jul 2017

Over half of all doctors in training say they work beyond their rostered hours at least weekly, and more than a fifth claim working patterns regularly leave them short of sleep, according to the General Medical Council’s (GMC) national training surveys.

Workload issues, and the impact they can have on doctors’ education and training, remain a persistent and troubling issue. Tiredness and fatigue can impair decision-making, and so can impact on patients as well as the doctors themselves.

GMC Chief Executive Charlie Massey

The GMC has today (Tuesday 4 July 2017) published the initial findings from its annual UK-wide surveys of more than 53,000 doctors in training and over 24,000 senior doctors who act as trainers.

Doctors in training told the GMC that overall satisfaction with their teaching remained high. Also, while many continue to report heavy workloads, the situation appears to have improved slightly since 2016.

Findings included around 53% of doctors in training in the UK who said they worked beyond their rostered hours at least weekly, and 22% who said their working patterns left them feeling short of sleep at work on a daily or weekly basis.

The 2017 figures are a slight improvement on 2016 – when 58% said they worked beyond their rostered hours at least weekly – but are broadly consistent with the findings of the GMC’s previous national training surveys.

The GMC’s Chief Executive, Charlie Massey, said:

‘Workload issues, and the impact they can have on doctors’ education and training, remain a persistent and troubling issue. Tiredness and fatigue can impair decision-making, and so can impact on patients as well as the doctors themselves.

‘Our early findings suggest some trainees have experienced improvements in workloads since last year. This is welcome, and it’s important that we acknowledge the work being done, across all four UK nations, to deal with these pressures.

‘However, it is too early to determine whether it is the start of a longer-term trend. We know from our wider conversations with trainees that the situation for them continues to be very challenging.

‘In the meantime it is important that education providers do what they can protect the quality of training and the wellbeing of doctors, using the results of this year’s surveys to target their efforts.’

This year’s national training surveys also included, for the first time, test questions to specifically ask doctors about rota design, and in particular whether it impacted on their education and training.

UK wide, 31% of doctors in training either ‘disagreed’ or ‘strongly disagreed’ with the statement that education and training opportunities were rarely lost due to gaps in rotas. A similar proportion of trainers – 27% – shared this view.

Charlie Massey added: ‘These were test questions so we need to treat the results with caution and be wary about drawing any firm conclusions at this stage.

‘However, the results do reflect the concerns that have been raised previously by doctors in training, and they suggest rota issues are affecting some doctors’ access to education and training.

‘We know frontline health services are under huge pressure at the moment, but education providers must do their utmost to make sure rotas provide doctors with sufficient access to learning opportunities and to minimise the adverse effects of fatigue and workload.’

The national training surveys were open between March and May this year, and achieved response rates of 98% for doctors in training and 53% for trainers.

The GMC is now analysing the results of the surveys, to see how trends are reflected and differ across specialties and locations, and will publish a more detailed report, based on its findings, later in the year.

The GMC report containing initial findings of the 2017 national training surveys is available here.  

Notes to editors

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.
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