This site is intended for health professionals only

Doctors are suffering from ‘moral injury’ not burnout, says college leader

The NHS needs to stop referring to doctors as suffering from ‘burnout’, as it implies they and not the system are at fault, the president of the Royal College of Physicians will say in a keynote address today.

Speaking at the RCP annual conference in Manchester, Professor Andrew Goddard will say the health service should start referring to the ‘moral injury’ suffered by doctors. 

His speech follows research that showed 90% of GPs are at ’high risk’ of burnout. Nine in 10 doctors in the survey said their workplace has had an impact on their mental health, while more than a quarter were diagnosed with a mental health condition in the last 12 months.

Professor Goddard will say: ’What we call burnout, that sense of despair, hopelessness and loss of joy is not due to a failure of the individual. It is a failure of the environment they work in, the culture of the workplace imposed on them.

’Some, particularly in the States have started to call this process ”moral injury” as it puts the onus back on the system.’

Professor Goddard points out that the number of emergency admissions has increased by over 50% alongside a 25% reduction of bed numbers since 2002, leading to growing pressure for doctors.

However, he wil urged doctors to remain positive: ’Talking about the negatives will not achieve much… We need to highlight the positive ways we can support ourselves and each other. I will continue, unashamedly, to tell everyone I can why I think medicine is brilliant and how we can support each other.”