A study has found that burnout in doctors doubles chances of patient safety problems, most common in doctors aged 20 to 30 and those working in A&E or intensive care.

The Guardian reported the findings, published in the British Medical Journal, have raised fresh concern over the welfare and pressures on doctors in the NHS, given the extensive evidence that many are experiencing stress and exhaustion due to overwork.

A joint team of British and Greek researchers analysed 170 previous observational studies of the links between burnout among doctors, their career engagement and quality of patient care. Those papers were based on the views and experience of 239,246 doctors in countries including the US, UK and others in Africa, Asia and elsewhere globally.

They found that burned-out medics were twice as likely as their peers to have been involved in patient safety incidents, to show low levels of professionalism and to have been rated poorly by patients for the quality of the care they have provided.

This research affirms the General Medical Council’s 2022 annual survey of the UK’s trainee doctors found that “the risk of burnout is now at its worst since it was first tracked in 2018” due to heavy workloads, which have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Responding to the new findings in the BMJ, Dr Latifa Patel, the chair of the British Medical Association’s representative body, said:

“This report will not be a surprise to doctors and medical students. Burnout is not just a question of personal wellbeing or career satisfaction – it is a matter of patient safety.

“Tired, undervalued and understrength doctors cannot work to the best of their abilities and these figures throw into disturbing relief what that means for patient care.

“The tragic consequences of burnout have their root in the workforce crisis, and if the NHS cannot recruit or retain its staff, the vicious cycle of poor patient care will only accelerate.”

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