A survey of more than 63,000 UK doctors has revealed that burnout is worsening across the profession, risking reversing recent improvements in doctor’s workloads and wellbeing.

The results, which were published in a report by the General Medical Council (GMC), showed that responses to questions about burnout were the worst since they were first introduced in 2018.

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

In total, a third of trainees said they felt burnt out to a high or very high degree because of their work, compared to around a quarter of respondents in previous years.

Moreover, 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.

Quality of training remained high

Despite both trainer and trainee doctors reporting worsening levels of burnout, the survey found the quality of training remained high and similar to pre-pandemic levels.

Roughly three-quarters (76%) of trainees rated the quality of teaching as ‘good’ or ‘very good’, and almost nine in 10 (88%) described their clinical supervision as ‘good’ or ‘very good’.

Furthermore, eight in 10 (81%) of trainees said they were on course to meet their curriculum outcomes for the year. However, one in ten – a substantial number in real terms – said they were concerned about progressing through their training.

“We cannot expect doctors to continue to operate at this level of intensity”

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.”

She added: “The pandemic has caused inevitable disruption, and some training opportunities have been lost. But, thanks to the efforts and hard work of trainers and trainees, where training has been possible the quality has been sustained.

“We know many trainees remain concerned about their training progression, so we are working hard to ensure training is flexible, fair, and helps prepare doctors to meet current and future patient needs.”