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Independents' Day

Over seven in 10 doctors face ‘superdoctor syndrome’

Over seven in 10 UK doctors are trying to live up to the ‘superdoctor’ expectation, according to a new survey by the Medical Protection Society.

Among the 275 doctors surveyed, 72% said they come into work even when they feel too tired, unwell or stressed.

A new report by MPS - called Breaking the burnout cycle – highlights an ‘entrenched’ culture of doctors ignoring their own health concerns and believing in ‘superdoctor syndrome’ in which they sey unachievable expectaions for themselves.

The report evaluated that the syndrome can lead to burnout, mental health issues, and increased medicolegal risks, as a quarter of those surveyed said they suspect emotional exhaustion has contributed to an ‘irreversible’ clinical error.

The report concluded that all NHS organisations should have clear policies in place for staff to take breaks and time off when they are ill.

Additionally, the MPS said GPs should not be overlooked in the implementation of Health Education England’s ‘wellbeing guardians’ programme in which a board-level member of staff is responsible for the mental wellbeing of staff.

MPS president Professor Dame Jane Dacre said: ‘Doctors are notoriously reluctant to take time off when they are sick, even though they would regularly advise patients to stay off work under the same circumstances.

'It is hardly surprising that doctors behave in this way – the working environment is challenging and relentless and doctors want to do their best for their patients - this is evident from our survey as 46% agree or strongly agree that they feel guilty when taking time off.'

She added: ‘Medical training has also historically resulted in many doctors measuring themselves against a superhuman benchmark, resulting in the "superdoctor syndrome" where doctors expect the unachievable of themselves.

‘Those who find themselves in this situation have an increased risk of burnout, mental health issues, making errors that could lead to an adverse patient outcome and taking long-term sickness absence.’

Last month the Government announced a national roll-out of the NHS Practitioner Health Programme, giving all NHS doctors access to confidential advice and support about their mental health.

Readers' comments (8)

  • Where's Optimus?

    Have named responsible ccg/ practice

    2. Locum fund to support those who need to take time off but are afraid they cannot afford to do so

    3. Reduce workload

    3a. Outsource home visits
    3b. Tests results / letters somehow shared responsibility with patients in terms of when they are assessed
    3c. Legal ratio of patients to practitioners

    The work load is intense
    some say private practice will reduce demand significantly
    but if it doesn't it should address funding issues which are linked to under staffing

    we need "Thanos" and his glove
    to cut the demand in half

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  • Where's Optimus?

    "zombie doc"?
    instead of superdoc
    burnt out but still moving ??

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  • try instead that one is met with a - hope you are better - but the body language and attitude is more like - take time off again and your in big trouble- prevails. plus getting a locum at short notice is almost impossible now. i get complaints from patients for taking time off to be ill. patients are surprised we get ill which is bizarre. even when off sick one still gets emails and requests to do work at home.
    all in all its just a toxic culture to work in and any sign of weakness is pounced upon and criticised. and you wonder why so many people are quitting.

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  • David Banner

    It may not be healthy, but the unwritten rule of partnerships is “thou shalt not go off sick”.
    None of us wants to be the one to dump on the other partners, who are left with double workload if we don’t show up.
    By struggling in when dying from terminal man flu you set a high bar to the others, who won’t dare go off with their URTIs. Equally, if one partner starts to take a few sickies , you suddenly don’t feel so bad about taking a duvet day yourself.
    Within reason this stoicism is a strength of partnerships, not a weakness. But once we’ve all been swept away and replaced by salaried docs, I suspect there will be a sharp rise in sick leave.

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  • David Banner - rather bravely - 'describes it exactly as it is'. He is also probably right about 'how its going to be'.

    In small to medium partnerships, one doc's flexible approach is another doc's MI.

    I suspect the situation is exactly the same in most DGH consultant teams - especially if they are involved in acute admissions.

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  • A board level person in charge of staff well-being? How does that work in your average GP practice? And who do you think would have had to see the 37 patients I have booked in today if I'd have taken a sickie? Sensible solutions from previous contributors but would only work if we all go salaried and government puts in the funding. Guess superdocs will have to fight on to the bitter end...

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  • Sounds more like abused and bullied doctors rather than super doctor. I bet none of them feel particularly "super".

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  • All very well, but the solution implies a need to immediately double the number of GPs existing in britain, and would cost twice as much as currently!
    Can Government afford that???

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