UK health services can be model for the world in creating compassionate workplaces for doctors

A stressed doctor © Citalliance/Dreamstime

A new General Medical Council (GMC) report, finds the UK’s health services could be world leaders in creating workplaces which support doctors’ wellbeing and patient safety if existing good practice were applied more widely.

Lancaster University Management School Professor Michael West, a leading organisational psychologist, co-authored the Caring for doctors, Caring for patients report for the GMC with clinical psychiatrist and mental health expert Dame Denise Coia.

It identifies the need to address the wellbeing of doctors faced with higher workloads, whose own health impacts on patient care.

Professor West and Dame Denise examined the root causes of poor wellbeing, and solutions in both primary and secondary care, hearing evidence from clinicians from across a range of disciplines around the UK.

Their recommendations include compassionate leadership models giving doctors more say over the culture of their workplaces, adopting minimum standards of food and rest facilities, and standardising rota designs to take account of workload and available staff.

The review found many individual employers and clinical teams already implement local solutions to address issues affecting the health and wellbeing of doctors, and Professor West and Dame Denise believe the UK’s health services could be a ‘model for the world’ in how to develop workplace cultures that support doctors’ core work needs if these solutions were consistently applied.

Other recommendations for health service leaders include improvements to team-working, culture and leadership, and workloads. The GMC has accepted the recommendations made and pledged to work with other leaders to help introduce them.

Professor West, of the Department for Organisation, Work and Technology, said: “UK health services can be a model for the world in creating compassionate workplaces that promote doctors’ wellbeing through meeting their core work needs.

“We can’t simply go on the way we are, loading more responsibility onto doctors already struggling to cope. Where workloads are excessive, patient care suffers.

“We heard some astonishing stories, of doctors being denied leave for a relative’s funeral and sleeping in their car, too exhausted to drive home from a shift.

“But we also saw examples of good practice and compassionate leadership; places where staff engagement works well, and ideas are listened to and acted on. It’s these that should be shared and replicated more widely.”

In their research, Professor West and Dame Denise found that creating supportive, safe and inclusive working environments was key, and that doctors – in common with all workers – have an ‘ABC of core needs’ if they are to remain well and stay motivated at work:

Autonomy/control – the need to have control over work lives and to act consistently with work and life values.

Belonging – the need to be connected to, cared for and caring of others in the workplace, and to feel valued, respected and supported.

Competence – the need to experience effectiveness and deliver valued outcomes, such as high-quality care.

GMC Chief Executive Charlie Massey said: “Medicine has always been a high-pressure career, but doctors are telling us that the demands on them are now so great they risk becoming unmanageable. As a result, their own health suffers, and patient care is compromised.

“Solutions are not easy, but this report shows that there are already many examples of great practice to build from. As a regulator, we will use all our influence and powers to support doctors and medical students.”

The Caring for doctors, Caring for patients report is available online here:

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