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Is poor morale amongst junior doctors putting patients at risk?

Author: Julie Tansey

A warning was included in the General Medical Council’s Annual Report into ‘The State of Medical Education and Practice in the UK: 2016’, suggesting that this could be the case.

For the first time ever, in summer 2016, St Georges University Hospital London opened up it’s 5 year medical degree programme to candidates wishing to apply via clearing, which is unprecedented. This is a process normally used to fill places that would otherwise go unfilled.  The number of applicants to medicine for the 2016 intake fell by 13.5% compare to the 2 previous years.

Medicine is no longer an attractive option for young, talented and bright people who have a desire to care for others.  This surely has massive implications for the future of medicine in this country.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health has stated: “dedication and sheer hard work of our NHS doctors is absolutely crucial to delivery of world-class care for patients.”

Without junior doctors on the front line providing that care, caring passionately about their work the NHS simply would not be able to cope.

One has to question whether the approach to the negotiation process in the recent pay dispute has been responsible for the shift in popularity of medicine as a choice of career.  The NHS is seeing more patients that ever before, running faster than ever and quite frankly, struggling to keep up.

The Royal College of Surgeons’ President Claire Marx, said on the issue: “dedicated frontline doctors and nurses are treating more patients than ever before.  We welcome the extra money the government promised but we need a long term plan to address the growing number of patients.”

A spokesperson for The Royal College of Physicians also stated that poor morale is having a negative impact on patient care.

The BMA website reported on a young doctor, Dr Farrar, having completed his second foundation year, together with a group of five other young doctors from Leeds deciding to go abroad to work.  Dr Farrar stated that morale could not be lower in the workplace and that his decision was well worth the gamble as he expected to gain the benefit of a work-life balance and professional appreciation in Australia.  He told of having to volunteer to work extra weekends to ensure colleagues weren’t left alone in intimidatingly busy wards, saying ” there are many rota gaps and you help out to help colleagues.”  It is seemingly hard to escape once the shift is over and there is little scope for planning a weekend away or a family weekend.

On 4 October 2016 the BMA published it’s, “Cohort Doctor Report”.  This is a 10 year study of 430 doctors who, now 9 years post graduate, are progressing through speciality training or working as GP’s.   This study found an increase in numbers of those wishing to practise overseas and those who have taken time out of their career.   The biggest stressors are said to be the work-life balance, general shortage of doctors and increasing burdens of paperwork.

It therefore appears that there are many instances of the NHS relying on the goodwill of it’s staff to cope with the high demand for care.  There are just not enough doctors to cope as it is without pushing away those already here. Their goodwill is running out towards the institutions that just expect it.

Seemingly, there needs to be serious urgent government input into the training and retention of our doctors for the NHS to survive.  Until this is achieved there will undoubtedly be shortcomings in patient care.

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