junior doctors: too busy to train?

In December 2016 the General Medical Council (“GMC”), the regulatory body for doctors in the United Kingdom, published the results of its National Training Survey stating that many junior doctors were concerned that they were not receiving sufficient training due to heavy workloads.

The survey which canvassed opinions from 55,000 trainee doctors highlighted areas of concern mostly in relation to the actual training junior doctors are receiving and the lack of sleep they are experiencing.

Over 50% of junior doctors stated that they regularly work beyond the hours on their rota and 25% reported that they suffer from sleep deprivation on a weekly basis. Statistics show that this is a worsening trend.

43% of junior doctors described their work load as “heavy” or “very heavy” and many of these doctors admit to having to leave teaching sessions to answer clinical calls.

Many doctors reported having to deal with clinical issues beyond their competence and stated that there was insufficient time (due to workloads) for the handover of patients from the outgoing shift to the oncoming shift, resulting in inadequacies in the transfer of information about patients.

The National Survey also surveyed 23,000 trainers, one in three of whom stated that they did not have sufficient time to ensure that the required training was delivered.

So what does this mean for the NHS and the general public?

As anyone who has ever listened to the news or read a newspaper will know, the NHS is under-funded and over stretched. As our population and users of the NHS increase, so do the demands on our junior doctors.

Whilst it is right to point out that there is always an influx of students finishing medical school and becoming junior doctors, the demands of the current NHS mean that these doctors are simply not getting the training (or the sleep) they need.

This, of course, impacts on the quality and safety of patient care as more and more junior doctors are being expected to manage clinical situations beyond their competencies in addition to working long hours without sufficient sleep. This will, in turn, lead to an increase in the number of complaints being made to the GMC about junior doctors who may then face fitness to practise investigations.

In response to the results of the survey the GMC has indicated that its Chief Executive has written to NHS Trusts reminding them that they are obliged to ensure that the training of junior doctors is protected. The GMC also states that where its training standards are not met, it will take action to include:

  • targeted visits or inspections;
  • referral to the GMC’s enhanced monitoring process; or
  • removing doctors from their training environment or provider.

But is this enough? It remains to be seen whether the new contract for junior doctors will assist with the concerns discussed in this article or whether it will only make things worse. However, with the GMC refusing registration for some doctors, with more and more people seeking treatment from an already over stretched NHS, and with those doctors already in training struggling to obtain the required training or sleep necessary to fulfil their jobs, it does not appear that these very real problems will be rectified any time soon.

If you are a doctor seeking registration with the GMC or a doctor facing a fitness to practise investigation by the GMC please do not hesitate to contact the specialist team of lawyers at Burton Copeland on 0161 827 9500.