Fresh approach vital to maintain healthcare workforce after Covid, says regulator
The regulator says long-standing staffing and service culture issues have been made worse by the impact of COVID-19. Positive experiences many doctors had during 2020 have not all been maintained into the pandemic’s second year.
The concerns are outlined in the GMC’s annual The state of medical education and practice in the UK report. The report says that, despite current pressures, now is the time to retain and embed positive changes to ways of working that were a key part of UK health services’ initial response to coronavirus.
Otherwise, it warns, exhaustion and disillusionment will grow even more rapidly and more doctors will quit the profession, blunting the effects of initiatives to boost recruitment.
"Workloads and burnout levels are very worrying, and the pressures on our health services will remain challenging for the foreseeable future. The pandemic has had the effect of pressing ‘fast-forward’ on what was already a precarious situation."
The GMC's Chief Executive
Charlie Massey, the GMC’s Chief Executive, said:
‘Workloads and burnout levels are very worrying, and the pressures on our health services will remain challenging for the foreseeable future. The pandemic has had the effect of pressing ‘fast-forward’ on what was already a precarious situation.
‘We’re seeing exhaustion and dissatisfaction returning to levels which are bad for doctors and bad for patients. We need a shift of mindset in the way doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals work together, or there could be far-reaching consequences for patient safety.’
The GMC report reveals that high workloads are associated with doctors feeling unable to cope, and then resulting in an increased risk of dissatisfaction and burnout.
There is also evidence of a sustained increase in the proportion of doctors taking ‘hard steps’ – such making enquiries about a career change or applying to move – to leave the profession. Numbers have risen from 3% in 2019 and 4% in 2020 to 7% in 2021. Excluding retirement, more than 80% of those planning to leave cited the impact of work on their wellbeing as a factor.
But Charlie Massey said there were welcome signs, including good examples of teamworking between different healthcare professionals, and that bringing medical associate professionals – such as physician associates and anaesthesia associates – within regulation would enable them to be deployed to help address workforce challenges.
‘There is cause for hope. Despite the difficulties, doctors still feel the pandemic has led to positive changes, particularly in relation to visible leadership, teamwork, high quality training environments and knowledge sharing across the profession. It is crucial that we embed and build on these benefits in the months ahead.
‘We must not underestimate the impact that working in such difficult environments has. There must be a renewed and continued focus on making the workplace cultures in our health services inclusive and compassionate. Doing so will benefit patient care as well as doctors’ wellbeing.’
Read the GMC’s The state of medical education and practice in the UK report.