The GMC has published the results of its National Training Surveys for 2021. Over 63,000 UK doctors took part in this year’s survey.

Predictably, the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to the increased burnout of doctors in the UK. The College shares the GMC’s concerns around burnout.

In more positive news, almost nine in ten trainees described their clinical supervision as good or very good – a testament to the dedication of trainers. And eight in ten trainees told the GMC that they are on course to meet their curriculum competencies or outcomes for this year.

The training of future consultants is vital to the sustainability of our NHS and to high quality patient care. Patients - and trainees themselves - should expect that training is of the highest standard.

The National Training Surveys also revealed that nine in ten trainers enjoyed their role supporting the next generation of doctors, a welcome finding.

Commenting on the National Training Surveys, Professor Andrew Elder, President of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, said:

Whilst we are pleased that trainees’ satisfaction with their training has generally been sustained through the pandemic, both trainee doctors and their trainers express continuing high levels of burnout, stress and fatigue.

It is very concerning, although it is not surprising, that burnout is high among trainee doctors. While the COVID-19 pandemic has added to the pressure that many healthcare workers are under, we should be mindful that high rates of burnout are not new.

Burnout is one of the top reasons for trainees to leave medicine altogether. The knock-on impact of trainee attrition will be felt directly on hospital wards across the UK. In addition, there must be enough trainees to progress to consultant level, so that hospitals can provide a consultant-delivered service.

Research suggests that medical staff already have very high innate levels of resilience. Burnout stems from the care environment in which they work. For example, there must be space on wards to conduct routine activities as well as having space for rest with good catering facilities.

We should ensure that non-clinical tasks, which can overburden doctors, are minimised to allow them to focus on the provision of direct care to their patients.

Burnout and fatigue, in addition to COVID-19, may also cause significant gaps in medical rotas at all levels, which in some cases could also compromise patient safety. It is therefore important that medical rotas are designed to support continuity of care. Those designing rotas must work closely with trainees to improve the rota system but rotas need doctors to populate them. If numbers fall too low, then no matter how sophisticated the rota design, there will be gaps.

Medical trainees have lost over one year of training during the pandemic. The College believes that government must prioritise adequate resources, time and protection to allow medical trainees to catch up on vital training. The College is also favours less than full time training which can help encourage trainee retention.

It is a tribute to those doctors with training responsibilities that the quality of training has generally been sustained over this challenging period, but trainers also have high levels of fatigue, stress and burnout and we must take all steps possible to support them in their clinical and teaching roles in the coming months.

For example there must be enough time in doctors’ job plans, to ensure that they have time to teach trainees. NHS consultants see the training of those who will follow them as a fundamental part of their role – an inability to fulfil that responsibility could lead, in itself, to increasing levels of burnout.

The College is clear that the pandemic is not yet over. Healthcare workers will require ongoing support to help the NHS on several levels – to treat the rising number of COVID-19 patients, to help clear the backlog of elective work and to deal with the usual presentations of illness that continue unabated - and will rise as we enter the autumn and winter months.