The COVID-19 pandemic increased burnout among doctors and risks reversing recent improvements in their workloads and wellbeing, the General Medical Council (GMC) warns in a report published today (27 July 2021).

The regulator’s annual national training survey was completed by more than 63,000 UK doctors, all of them either trainees or trainers. Responses to questions about burnout were the worst since they were introduced in 2018.

A third of trainees said they felt burnt out to a high or very degree because of their work, compared to around a quarter in previous years. Three in five said they always or often felt worn out at the end of a working day, and 44% felt their work was ‘emotionally exhausting’ to a high or very high degree.

Trainees’ responses to seven wellbeing-related questions, across all medical specialities, saw a swing towards negative answers compared to previous years.

Charlie Massey, Chief Executive of the GMC, said:
 ‘It is not surprising that burnout has worsened during the pandemic, but we cannot expect doctors to continue to operate at this level of intensity. As health services emerge from COVID pressures will remain, but we must not risk reversing the gains that have been made in recent years.

‘The danger is that, unless action is taken, workloads and wellbeing will continue to suffer, and future burnout rates could get even worse. As we move on from the pandemic, it is vital that doctors’ training and wellbeing needs are central to service recovery plans. This year’s results should be a blip caused by COVID, not part of a new normal.’

Although trainees and trainers reported worsening levels of burnout, the quality of training remained high, and similar to pre-pandemic levels.

Around three-quarters (76%) of trainees rated the quality of teaching as ‘good’ or ‘very good’, and almost nine in ten (88%) described their clinical supervision as ‘good’ or ‘very good’.

Eight in ten (81%) of trainees said they were on course to meet their curriculum outcomes for the year, although one in ten – a substantial number in real terms – were concerned about progressing through their training.

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