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Press release: One in five doctors feels overwhelmed at work every day

More than two thirds of doctors (69%) have felt overwhelmed at least once while at work in the past 3 weeks, according to a survey by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP).

More than two thirds of doctors (69%) have felt overwhelmed at least once while at work in the past 3 weeks, according to a survey by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP). Some 27.5% of respondents said they had felt overwhelmed once or twice during this period, 21.5% once or twice a week. A fifth (20.5%) said they had felt overwhelmed almost every day.

This is likely due to high levels of staff absence, which although slightly improved on last month, is still putting immense pressure on exhausted and demoralised staff working under the extreme pressure of rising COVID-19 cases coupled with usual winter illnesses. The RCP’s survey found that across the UK, 7.5% of respondents were off work (compared to 10.5% in December) and 3.5% due to COVID-19. With so many people off work, over half of doctors (55%) have been asked to fill a rota gap at short notice at least once during the past 3 weeks, adding yet further stress to their working days. Of those, almost a quarter (24%) had been asked to fill a rota gap at least once while on annual leave.

While staff absence has been felt acutely during the pandemic, much of the pressure on medical staff stems from workforce shortages that existed long before COVID-19. Even before the pandemic, half of consultant vacancies went unfilled. The RCP is urging the government to commit to a funded long-term workforce plan, along with strategies to improve recruitment and retention.

Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: “We’re pleased to see that absence due to COVID-19 has fallen since December. But it’s clear that availability of workforce remains the limiting factor to both morale and the performance of the NHS.

“Staff are feeling as low as ever before. The conversations I have with colleagues every day, lead me to sense a real shift in how well people feel they are able to cope. We need to keep this in mind because while we may see some light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, we have a long way to go before we are through the current pressures and have even further to go to clear the backlog.”

“Whilst I am uncomfortable admitting it, I have felt overwhelmed myself a couple of times in recent weeks. I’ve not felt like this since I was a houseman being on-call every other night. These are extraordinary times and it is only through the support of colleagues and family that many of us are coping.”

“We are all going to have to do all we can to make sure our multidisciplinary teams are working well, increase flexibility in working and training patterns, and make sure support is in place for colleagues who are struggling. But in the long run, as we and many others keep saying, we simply need to invest in more people.”

Notes to editors

The RCP is supporting a proposed amendment to the Health and Care Bill that would strengthen workforce planning by ensuring that every 2 years the Secretary of State must publish independently verified assessments of current and future workforce numbers consistent with the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) long-term fiscal projections. This is supported by former NHS Chief Executive Lord Stevens of Birmingham.

For more information, please contact RCP media manager Hannah Perlin on 0203 075 1466 or at hannah.perlin@rcp.ac.uk. For out-of-hours media enquiries, call 07896 416409.

About the survey

We conducted this survey of physicians on 8-11 January 2022 and received 1,218 responses. 94% of respondents were working in the NHS or health and social care more widely. Most were in England (92.5%). 79.5% were consultants, 8.5% higher specialty trainees, 5% internal medicine trainees and 4% SAS doctors. The most common specialty worked in was geriatric medicine (15%), followed by respiratory medicine (10%) and cardiology (8%). 51% of respondents were women and 46% were men. 73.5% were aged between 36 and 60 years of age. 61% were White British. 11% were disabled or had a long-term health condition. 56% had attended a state school.