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NHS work culture needs to change to better support trainee doctors, college says

The NHS needs to tackle its poor work place culture and improve the morale of doctors in training, the Royal College of Anaesthetists (RCoA) has warned.

In a report released today by the RCoA, anaesthetists in training are shown to be experiencing high levels of stress and fatigue due to system pressures, inflexible working patterns, and inadequate facilities for rest and catering.

These issues are impacting on patient care and contributing to doctors of all specialties quitting the medical profession, the college warns.

This should be seen as a wake-up call to healthcare stakeholders and national decision makers from a specialty that has traditionally weathered NHS pressures well.

The report makes a number of recommendations to change the workplace culture in relation to the welfare and morale of not only anaesthetists in training, but for doctors of all grades, working in all specialties.

Recommendations include a Government-led national welfare and morale strategy for all NHS staff, a call for capital funding to improve staff facilities, greater provision for flexible training programmes, and a cultural shift towards a no-blame learning environment that prioritises the safety of patients and the development of staff.

The report shows that nearly 85% of anaesthetists in training are at risk of burnout, while 78% have experienced poor health due to their job.

Six in 10 anaesthetists in training had worked through a full shift without a meal, and three-quarters had been through a shift without adequate hydration.

The report also shows dissatisfaction among anaesthetists in training in relation to the short duration and location of some hospital rotations, assessment requirements and loss of training opportunities due to workforce shortages and poor rota administration.

Dr Liam Brennan, President of the Royal College of Anaesthetists, said: “We are calling on the Government and senior NHS leaders to work with us to take steps to change the workplace culture for doctors of all specialties. The findings in the report are a clear wake-up call, one which is needed for the sake of both doctors and their patients.

“Patient safety is of paramount importance to all anaesthetists. Directly or indirectly, all of the findings in this report have some impact on our ability to consistently meet our patients’ needs.

“While we should always applaud the efforts of doctors who go above and beyond what is expected of them to maintain high-quality services, it is neither fair nor sustainable to expect this of doctors in training – especially if it is putting their physical and mental health at risk.”

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