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A third of doctors are exhausted before even starting work

Patients could be put at risk by burnt out trainee doctors who are exhausted before they even start work, experts warn

  • A poll of trainee doctors found a third of them are tired before they start work 
  • Another quarter of junior doctors say their work makes them feel ‘burnt out’
  • The General Medical Council says medics’ working conditions must be improved
  • The findings come less than a month after warning tired doctors make mistakes 

Patients could be put at risk by trainee doctors who are exhausted before they even start work, experts have warned.

A poll has revealed almost a quarter of junior doctors say they feel ‘burnt out’ because of their job.

And another third say they are already exhausted before they start a shift. 

A fifth of the junior doctors say they often feel tired at work, while half of trainees regularly work longer hours than they are signed up to do.

The General Medical Council (GMC), which carried out the poll of 70,000 doctors, said it paints a picture of long and intense working hours, heavy workloads and the challenges of frontline medical practice.

The findings come after experts claimed last month that doctors who work long hours are significantly more likely to make mistakes when treating patients.

A third of trainee doctors say they are already exhausted before they start work, according to a poll by the General Medical Council

Doctors’ working conditions are affecting their training experience and their personal wellbeing, the council warned.

The GMC’s poll gathered responses from almost 52,000 doctors in training and 19,000 of their trainers from across the UK.

Almost a quarter of trainees – 24 per cent – and one in five trainers said they feel burnt out because of their work.

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And almost a third of trainees – 32 per cent – said they are often or always exhausted in the morning at the thought of another day at work.

Around half of doctors in training and their trainers said they always or often felt worn out at the end of their working day. 

Some 40 per cent say their workload is ‘heavy or very heavy’.

Training opportunities missed because of long hours 

Some junior doctors say they miss opportunities to do training because they work such long hours.

Charlie Massey, chief executive of the GMC, said: ‘Doctors are working in highly pressured environments and they are telling us that as a result they are struggling to find time for essential training.

‘This is a major concern for us. Training must be protected and it must be safe, and employers need to address this urgently. 

‘Time to act on burn-out and exhaustion’ 

‘But it is also important that the wider issues reported in our surveys, around work-life balance, burn-out and exhaustion, are acted on. 

‘We can put off no longer the need to give doctors in training – who make up a fifth of all doctors – the resources they need and deserve.


Tired doctors are endangering lives in the same away as if they were ‘drunk’, medics warned in June.

Those working over 12 hours have the same concentration and judgement as someone who is inebriated, they say.

Dr Satish Jayagopal, a surgeon from Salisbury, said health professionals working these shifts are more than a quarter more likely – 27 per cent – to make a mistake than those working eight hours.

Similarly, a study on nurses found that mistakes tripled when shifts increased from eight to 12 hours, according to a motion submitted at the British Medical Association conference.

He said the research had found people working in those conditions had no idea their skills were impaired.

Experts said medics should be able to refuse to work if they felt they would be unsafe because they were tired. 

‘As a regulator, we are doing all we can through programmes of work to address doctors’ wellbeing and by giving them the confidence to raise concerns and have them acted on.

‘But it will take investment to solve the issues doctors are telling us about. 

‘Those responsible for allocating healthcare funding across the UK must ensure proper provision is made for education and training.’

Experts warn tired doctors make more mistakes 

Just last month experts warned that doctors working 12 hour days could be affected in the same way as being drunk.

After working for 12 hours in a row doctors are more than a quarter – 27 per cent – more likely to make a mistake than someone who has worked eight hours, according to Dr Satish Jayagopal, a surgeon from Salisbury.

Professor Wendy Reid, executive director of education and quality and national medical director at Health Education England (HEE), said: ‘We know that being a junior doctor is rewarding, but it is also challenging, and can be more stressful when there is poor rota planning or lack of support.

‘HEE is committed to improving the quality of education and training for doctors.

‘Over this past year we have developed, trialled and embedded further improvements, working alongside doctors in training, their representatives, and our partners across the NHS.’

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