Statement from NHS Practitioner Health following GMC annual report
15th December 2021
The GMC’s State of Medical Education and Practice in the UK (SOMEP) 2021 annual report has been published and echoes what we have been seeing in NHS Practitioner Health over the course of the pandemic, with a significantly worsening situation in recent months as more doctors than ever seek help to deal with their mental ill health. Our own report Practitioner Health’s Covid Experience https://www.practitionerhealth.nhs.uk/nhs-practitioner-health-covid-experience identified the real life experiences of how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the workforce, the issues they have faced and the impact this has had on their mental health and we have shown how numbers of doctors seeking help are increasing from around 150 registrations in April 2020 at the start of the pandemic, to almost 650 most recently in November 2021.
The GMC report shows that indicators for burnout are increasing, with GPs in particular at high risk and facing greater pressure than any other group. At NHSPH the numbers of GPs accessing the service has risen 10% since the start of the year. In the last month GPs represented 47% of all registrations and are over-represented when compared to the size of the profession. Other professions have also been affected differently at key stages of the pandemic, with surgery cancelled earlier on, those working in ICU and anaesthetics particularly impacted as they came out of the first and second waves, paediatrics starting to show rising numbers currently and psychiatry workloads also becoming more challenging as demand grows.
Particularly significant for NHSPH has been the growing numbers of women seeking help and there is evidence to show that female medics, and indeed the female health and care workforce as a whole has been disproportionately impacted. Around 80% of the current caseload is female and in the majority are aged group 30-39, likely to be parents and working alongside their caring activities.
Disabled doctors are singled out as being at a high risk of burnout in the GMC report and NHSPH figures show that just over 10% of our current caseload have some form of disability. This led to our publication earlier this year of a range of resources and factsheets aimed at doctors and others with a disability. https://www.practitionerhealth.nhs.uk/doctors-and-dentists-with-disabilities
Doctors who have trained overseas are also mentioned within the GMC report as less likely to receive workplace support and NHSPH figures show an increasing number of these are now seeking help via the service. The pandemic has been particularly tough on this group, who have often been separated from family and are less likely to have a strong support network around them. Registrations from overseas doctors currently make up around 15% of all new patients.
The whole workforce across health and social care is stretched at this time and this is reflected in both the GMC report and in the reasons our patients have for registering with the service. Anxiety has been the most common reason for accessing treatment throughout the last 20 months. Increasingly however we are seeing patients describe low mood, depression, feeling overwhelmed and struggling with the workload, feeling hopelessness and inability to switch off or even sleep.
NHSPH can help with all of these things, and one of the most important issues to note is that seeking help early when experiencing signs of burnout can make a huge difference, even avoiding many months of sickness absence as a result. We have individual and group support for a wide range of issues from insomnia to depression and help with overuse of alcohol. Over 85% of those who are not in work at the time they contact our service are able to return to work safely and effectively, no matter the issue they came to us with.
We know that there is a tough winter ahead, with pressures ramping up on all sectors yet again and we are proud that NHS Practitioner Health is in place to respond, alongside the regional wellbeing hubs when doctors and other health and care staff reach out for help. We are busier than ever before, but we are also bigger than ever before with an extensive network of clinicians and therapists available to help. We are ready and able to support mental heath treatment and support either on an individual or group basis, so please if you, or someone you know, needs help visit www.practitionerhealth.nhs.uk and see what we could offer.
Dame Clare Gerada, Medical Director Lucy Warner, Chief Executive
NHS Practitioner Health is available on a self-referral basis for all doctors and dentists in England and Scotland, all those in senior leadership positions in England and all regulated health and care professionals in Scotland. All other health and care staff should access one of the confidential regional wellbeing hubs in the first instance and can then be signposted on to NHS PH if appropriate.
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