The survey explored the ongoing experiences of doctors working during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, along with wider aspects of their work and future career plans.

Key findings

  • The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a major impact on the day-to-day work of doctors. Over one in three (35%) doctors were redeployed over the last year and nearly half (46%) have been providing more patient care remotely than face to face.
  • The frequency that doctors report feeling unable to cope with their workload on a weekly basis (30%) has increased since 2020 (19%) and returned to levels seen in 2019 (28%). Burnout has also increased across all measures and these have largely returned to 2019 levels, suggesting the cumulative impact of working through the pandemic is taking its toll on doctors’ wellbeing.
  • Some of the improved ways of working in response to the pandemic reported in the 2020 survey appear to be being sustained, particularly in relation to teamworking and sharing of knowledge across the medical profession.
  • Pressure on workloads and delays were flagged by most doctors as barriers to patient care.  They were also identified as contributing factors to specific patient care or safety compromises they had witnessed.
  • Almost three in five (58%) doctors felt they would be very or fairly likely to make a career change in the next year, most commonly seeking to cut down their workload either by reducing their contracted hours (35%) or moving to a role with less clinical workload (24%).
  • Common factors associated with wanting to make career changes were feelings of burnout and frustration; feeling a lack of support from management; the impact of the pandemic on access to development or learning opportunities; and pressure on workload impacting patient care.
  • The proportion of doctors that have taken action towards leaving the UK profession rose to 7% in 2021, up from 4% in 2020.

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.

‘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.’

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