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Many trainee doctors take time-out for health concerns, shows BMA survey

One in 10 junior doctors has taken time out of training over concerns for their health and wellbeing, a BMA survey has revealed.

The results showed that over half of the respondents had taken one or more breaks in training, with almost one fifth of those citing ‘health and wellbeing’ as the reason.

The survey also found that when asked about their career goals, the respondents viewed general practice as ‘especially unattractive’.

More than 2,000 junior doctors took part in the survey, which aimed to highlight trends within current doctors in training.

Among the key findings, they saw that doctors who had not decided their specialty or were training in general practice were the most likely to take a break for their health and wellbeing.

The report said: ‘These decisions are sensitive to pressures on the healthcare system, with workload and staffing levels major factors in choice of future career, and this survey suggests general practice is especially unattractive to the current cohort of junior doctors’.

It also saw that the proportion of respondents whose ultimate career goal was to be a consultant was high, while GP principal was ‘somewhat low’.

BMA junior doctors committee chair Dr Jeeves Wijesuriya said: ‘As junior doctors, we experience unsustainable pressures in the NHS on a daily basis.

‘Working conditions in the health service appear to have significant impact on where junior doctors see themselves working at the completion of their training, with workload and staffing levels major factors.’

He added that it was ‘concerning that a significant number of junior doctors said they took a break for health and wellbeing reasons, while describing heavy workloads and low morale during their training’.

‘The NHS is in the midst of a recruitment and retention crisis, and the government must urgently work with the BMA and other organisations to address these systemic issues, to ensure a workforce and health service fit for the future,’ he said.

One junior doctor who took part in the survey commented: ‘Given the workload across all specialties in the NHS and increasing pressures in the face of poor funding, poor staffing and very low morale, I still feel regular breaks out are essential for doctors’ wellbeing.

‘This helps to prevent burn out and allows us time to tend to the other important aspects of our lives which can get so neglected when working full time/training.’

The report also saw doctors stating ‘other’ reasons for taking time out, which included fulfilling wider interests, travelling, working in other countries, and needing a break from the ‘treadmill’ of training.

Last year, official figures found that despite a record number of GP trainees entering training in England, the total still fell short of the 3,250 graduate target set in 2015, as part of the Government’s aim to recruit 5,000 extra GPs by 2020.

The figures showed that 3,157 had been recruited for the training in 2017/18, an increase of 138 on the previous year’s total.

Key results

What proportion of doctors in training have taken a break in their clinical training?

More than half of all survey respondents (56%) had taken one or more breaks in their clinical training.

Why choose to take a break in clinical training?

The most popular reasons given for a break was to travel (26%), maternity/paternity leave (24%), to work as a locum (21%) to take a non-training post in the UK (19%) and respondents’ health and wellbeing (19%). ‘Other’ reasons for breaks included: to teach/take an academic role or study, for personal/ health/relationship reasons, to consider career and specialty choice, needing a physical break and being dissatisfied with the educational content of training.

Do the reasons given for taking a break relate to choice of specialty?

Respondents who were undecided on their specialty (48%) or training in emergency medicine (42%) were most likely to take a break in their clinical training to travel. Undecided (48%) and doctors training in emergency medicine (36%). were also most likely to say they had taken a break to work as a locum. Trainees in paediatrics (43%) and general practice (33%) were most likely to report taking a break for maternity/paternity leave, although this reflects that more females were also training in these specialties. Doctors undecided on their specialty (31%) and training in general practice (28%) were most likely to take a break in training for their health and wellbeing.

What are the ultimate career goals of current doctors in training?

The proportion of doctors in training whose ultimate career goal is consultant appears be high, and those whose goal is a GP principal is somewhat low. This may reflect the respondent sample for this survey but it does mirror a lack of attractiveness of general practice to current doctors in training and the trend for the hospital specialist workforce to grow more quickly. Females and those in foundation training were more likely to be undecided on their career goal, factors which are associated with taking a break in training, as this survey has shown.

Source: BMA