The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh has raised its concerns over the current pressures on UK doctors in light of the GMC’s report, The state of medical education and practice in the UK: workplace experiences 2023.

The report holds data from over 4000 doctors, who provided insight on their workplace experiences in 2022, and the impact they’re having on their practice and patient care.

Key highlights include:

  • An increasing number of doctors report feeling burnt out, dissatisfied, and unable to cope. As a result, many have told the GMC that they’re taking hard steps to leave the profession, resulting in a vicious cycle which threatens patient safety.
  • 44% of doctors found it hard to provide sufficient care to patients, in part due to unmanageable workloads.
  • 70% of doctors said that they worked beyond their rostered hours, with 68% saying they found it difficult to take breaks due to the intensity of their workload. 42% felt unable to cope with their workload – and increase of 12% from 2021.
  • Disabled doctors (44%) are less likely that non-disabled doctors (51%) to be satisfied in their work. And doctors from ethnic minorities (78%) said that they felt less supported at work than white colleagues (87%).
  • Trainers said that workload pressures limit their capacity to deliver training. The College supports the concept of protected training time, which could provide trainers with more opportunities to support trainees.
  • Feeling valued, being part of a supportive team, and having a strong sense of belonging lead to higher satisfaction and better patient safety.

Commenting on the report, Professor Andrew Elder, President of The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh said:

Medicine has always been a challenging profession in which to practice but should still offer the opportunity for a rewarding and worthwhile professional career. The fact that so many doctors - in increasing numbers - now feel that work in the NHS is so difficult that they must cut their hours or even leave creates an unsustainable position for our NHS medical workforce. 

We support the GMC’s solutions and agree that some will take time to enact. However others should be quickly soluble - for example the fact that staff cannot access decent food and rest space when at work is entirely unacceptable in any modern workplace. 

In addition to doctors’ concerns about the quality and safety of patient care we are deeply concerned about the ability of trainers to support trainees in the current NHS. Job planning must contain protected time to enable doctors to teach those who will follow them - without teaching and training, the quality of patient care can only fall further.

Dr Marion Slater, workforce lead for the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh added:

As we recently highlighted in our consultant census – which is a joint project with colleagues in London and Glasgow – there is an increasing risk to the safe provision of patient care, with an alarming and rising proportion of unfilled consultant posts and consultants approaching retirement.

The GMC’s survey, worryingly, highlights that more doctors are choosing to leave the profession altogether – 15% of those surveyed in 2022 had left the profession, compared with 7% in 2021. And this does not even include doctors of retirement age who were planning to retire. Just over four in ten (43%) had taken hard steps towards leaving the UK profession.

This trend must not continue. A workforce strategy is needed now to ensure that we have enough doctors both in the immediate future, and longer term.