Junior doctors' training under threat, says GMC

Junior doctor Image copyright Science Photo Library

Junior doctors in the UK fear they are missing out on crucial training because of increasing workloads, a report by the General Medical Council suggests.

In its survey of more than 50,000 junior doctors, 43% said their daytime workload was "heavy" or "very heavy".

The GMC says time allocated for training must be protected so junior doctors can gain the experience and skills they need for their development.

Health ministers say improving support for training is a priority.

In the survey, many of the doctors training to be consultants and senior GPs said they frequently had to cope with problems beyond their expertise.

And those who complained of a heavy workload said they were three times more likely to leave a teaching session to deal with a clinical call.

Short of sleep

Doctors working in specialties, including emergency medicine, acute internal and general internal medicine, respiratory medicine and gastroenterology, reported even higher workloads and said these had grown worse in the past five years.

About 13,000 - or one in four - reported feeling short of sleep on a regular basis.

Charlie Massey, chief executive of the GMC - which regulates the medical profession - said: "Medical training is so often a bellwether for the quality and safety of patient care, and patients are directly at risk if support and supervision of doctors in training is inadequate.

"We have clear standards about protecting doctors' training, and valuing trainers that we expect education bodies and providers to meet.

"Where our standards are not met, we can and we will take action."

Mr Massey later told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that he agreed that there were a lot of pressures on the NHS but said "standards at the GMC have to be our standards whatever those pressures are".

He added: "It's really important employers design rotas to address fatigue, workload pressures and to ensure that trainee doctors are working within their competencies."

'Placing couples'

In England, NHS Employers said the new contract for junior doctors would help address many of the problems - a point some medics disagreed with in the report.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health in England said there were plans to improve training, including increasing senior support.

An official said: "The health secretary has announced plans to improve junior doctors' training, including more support from consultants, more notice of future placements, including where couples are placed, reviewing the appraisals process and investing £10m to bring doctors back up to speed when they take time out to have a family or other caring responsibilities."

In Scotland, officials said they would make use of the data from the survey to ensure training was excellent.

Prof Stewart Irvine, medical director of NHS Education for Scotland, said: "It helps us ensure that we provide doctors in training with the best possible experience, that we learn from areas where things are working well, and can take action to improve matters where training is not up to standard."

In Wales, a new education contract for junior doctors announced last month guarantees ring-fenced time for their learning every week.

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