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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.


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