Nearly half of UK young doctors say stress levels rose last year

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 02 May 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f2826
  1. Helen Jaques
  1. 1BMJ Careers

Specialty trainees and newly qualified GPs are experiencing rising levels of stress and a deteriorating work-life balance, while changes to the structure of the NHS and to the NHS pension scheme are eroding morale, research published on Thursday 2 May has found.

Nearly half (44%) of the 368 doctors that the BMA surveyed last September said that their stress levels were worse or much worse than they were a year before, while similar proportions said that work-life balance and morale had worsened (39% and 40%, respectively).

The BMA suggests that the “rapid, evolving change” that the NHS experienced in 2011 and 2012—with the reorganisation of the NHS and of medical education in England and changes to the NHS pension scheme—and poor job security for trainee doctors could have a role in these findings.

Each year the BMA surveys a group of doctors who qualified in 2006 to assess trends in the UK medical workforce. The 2012 survey, which was completed by 368 of the 435 doctors in the cohort (85% response rate), included for the first time questions about doctors’ workplace morale, work related stress, and work-life balance.

A quarter (26%) of the specialty trainees and a third (34%) of the newly qualified GPs who completed the BMA’s sixth annual cohort study said that they had experienced high or very high levels of work related stress.

Almost half (44%) of the doctors in the cohort reported that their stress levels had risen during 2012. One in five (20%) respondents said that they experienced unacceptable levels of stress in the workplace.

More than a quarter (28%) of respondents said that they did not have enough time to deliver the quality of care that patients deserved, a finding the BMA describes as “troubling.” Just over half (54%) said that there were problems with staffing shortages in their workplace; and a shortage of doctors in the workplace was one of the top three sources of stress for the cohort doctors.

The BMA said that the reported staffing shortages could be a product of poor rota planning by employers, although it was possible that staffing shortages were a result of doctors not training in the right specialties.

Only half (54%) of the newly qualified GPs and a third (32%) of the specialty trainees surveyed said that they had a good or very good work-life balance. More than a third (39%) said that their work-life balance had worsened between September 2011 and September 2012.

Three quarters (79%) of the cohort doctors said that their working hours interfered with their private life, with work related administration the biggest factor affecting the doctors’ activities outside work.

Although doctors were most likely to rate their workplace morale as moderate (45%), 40% said that morale had deteriorated over the past 12 months (and 32% said that morale was now much better).

Changes to the NHS pension scheme and to the structure of the NHS were the factors that respondents said were most likely to negatively affect their morale (68% and 62%, respectively), whereas nearly all doctors (92%) said that interaction with patients had a positive effect on their morale.


Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f2826