Intended for healthcare professionals


Overstretched doctors must be encouraged to seek help, GMC says

BMJ 2016; 355 doi: (Published 06 December 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;355:i6559
  1. Abi Rimmer
  1. BMJ Careers
  1. arimmer{at}

NHS organisations should do more to recognise the intense pressures on the medical profession and make it more acceptable for people to seek help when they are struggling, the General Medical Council (GMC) has said.

The recommendation is part of a report, Medical professionalism matters, published by the GMC on Tuesday 6 December.1

The report’s findings were based on a series of events held by the GMC that explored the challenges facing the profession. The regulator also polled doctors, both at the events and online.

The report said that of the 1022 doctors polled, 47% said that they “would not be able to ask for help if they were struggling with the pressures of their job without being penalised in some way.”

Among its recommendations, the GMC said that all NHS organisations, including itself, could “do more to recognise the intense pressures on the profession and make it more acceptable for people to ask for help when they are struggling.”

Many doctors told the GMC that the current environment was the most challenging of their careers, as the pressures of day-to-day practice rose. Among the most frequently raised issues during the seven UK-wide events were the lack of time and support to make a reality of reflective practice—at every stage of a doctor’s career.

Doctors also cited problems around professional isolation, fragmentation of care for patients, and poor communication.

The report recommended that medical royal colleges and the GMC should work together to reinvigorate continuing professional development. It also said that the GMC, alongside other systems regulators and improvement bodies, should intensify their efforts to promote a culture of openness, learning, and candour, recognising that the professional may be the “second victim” when things go wrong in healthcare.

Commenting on the findings, Terence Stephenson, chair of the GMC said, “We all know that medicine is immensely challenging and sometimes issues can seem insurmountable. But throughout this series I have been incredibly heartened and encouraged by the amount of passion and determination participants showed towards finding collaborative solutions to the challenges the profession as a whole faces.”

He added, “It has been immensely gratifying to hear views and ideas from such a wide range of doctors, from across the profession and across the UK.”