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Junior doctors say stress is putting patients at risk

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Junior doctors are warning that excessive stress is putting patients at risk, after a report by the Royal College of Physicians reveals gaps in rotas and a lack of access to basic facilities.

However, despite this, nearly all junior doctors feel valued by the patients they treat.

Released today, Being a junior doctor. Experiences from the front line of the NHS, looks at what challenges junior doctors are currently facing in their jobs and the impact this is having on the patients they care for every day.

Based on a survey of 498 junior doctors the report says that the current health and wellbeing of the junior doctor workforce is at a harmful and unsustainable level. Findings include:

  • four out of five junior doctors report that their job ‘sometimes’ or ‘often’ causes them excessive stress
  • one in four state that their job has had a serious impact on their mental health
  • over half (54%) report that their job ‘sometimes’ or ‘often’ had a negative impact on their physical health.

Responses from junior doctors on the issue of stress, included:

‘If you’re always being pushed beyond your limit your health suffers, your patient care suffers.’

‘I ignored my own health, as I was more concerned about not missing work and putting colleagues at risk of unmanageable workloads.’

‘[The high workload] puts you under a lot of pressure; you’re stretched, it is difficult to know what to do …’

Junior doctors were also asked for their perspective on the factors having a negative impact on patient safety. Responses included the well discussed and common factors, such lack of available hospital beds (61%), poor patient access to social care (58%) and nursing rota gaps (51%). One concerning factor was the perception that staff morale (50%) is now so low that it is having a negative impact on patient safety in their place of work.

However, many junior doctors feel valued in the work they do and much of this is down to the contact and support within the medical teams and with patients. According to our report 94% of junior doctors feel valued by their consultant and nearly all respondents (96%) feel that they are valued by the patients they treat for the quality of care they provide.

The survey also found that the working conditions for many junior doctors falls far short of what is needed – with many reporting limited access to food and water. The findings show that the majority of junior doctors (56.1%) reported going through at least one shift in the last month without eating a meal and nearly three quarters (73.7%) reported working at least one shift in the last month without drinking enough water. This is troubling given that a junior doctors’ shift may last 12 hours or more.

Jane Dacre, president of the RCP, explains that the NHS should be a supportive work environment: “The findings today show that poor access to even basic facilities, gaps in rotas and the constant pressures of administration, often taking them away from treating patients, is having a stark impact on the mental and physical health of our junior doctors.”

“Medicine is a brilliant profession with so many possibilities to enhance the lives of the patients we treat. We need to fund our NHS and social care services so that all staff are able to provide safe and effective care, but also have the ability to thrive.”

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