Doctors have found their work “emotionally exhausting” during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a report published today by the General Medical Council (GMC).  

More than 63,000 UK doctors, all of them either trainees or trainers, have completed the GMC’S annual national training survey. The responses showed an increase in burnout among doctors, the worst since the questions were introduced in 2018. 

Trainees responded to seven questions regarding wellbeing, across all medical specialties. A third of trainees said they felt burn out to a high or very high degree due to their work, while in previous years a quarter of trainees responded this way.  

Three in five trainees said they always or often felt worn out at the end of a working day and 44 per cent felt their work was ‘emotionally exhausting’ to a high or very high degree. 

Charlie Massey, Chief Executive of the GMC, said: “It is not surprising that burnout has worsened during the pandemic, but we cannot expect doctors to continue to operate at this level of intensity. As health services emerge from Covid pressures will remain, but we must not risk reversing the gains that have been made in recent years. 

The danger is that, unless action is taken, workloads and wellbeing will continue to suffer, and future burnout rates could get even worse. As we move on from the pandemic, it is vital that doctors’ training and wellbeing needs are central to service recovery plans. This year’s results should be a blip caused by Covid, not part of a new normal.” 

Despite the effects of the pandemic, the quality of training remained high, and similar to pre-pandemic levels. Three quarters of trainees rated the quality of teaching as “good” or “very good”, and almost nine in ten reported their clinical supervision was “good” or “very good”. 

Eight in ten of trainees felt they were on course to meet their curriculum outcomes for the year, however, one in ten – a significant number in real terms – were worried about progressing through their training. 

Mr Massey added: “The pandemic has caused inevitable disruption, and some training opportunities have been lost. But, thanks to the efforts and hard work of trainers and trainees, where training has been possible the quality has been sustained. 

“We know many trainees remain concerned about their training progression, so we are working hard to ensure training is flexible, fair, and helps prepare doctors to meet current and future patient needs.” 

Dr Sarah Hallett, British Medical Association Junior Doctors Committee Chair, said: “More broadly, as evidenced in previous surveys, while the pandemic may have exacerbated burnout among the medical profession, it did not create it in the first place. Only with a well-resourced NHS that treats its workforce with dignity, and through wider policies that improve rather than harm the health of the population, can we avoid staff stretching themselves so thinly that it leaves them at breaking point.”