Banish the term ‘burnout’ because it puts the blame on the individual


By Nicola Garrett

30 Apr 2019

The term burnout should be banished from medicine because it suggests individuals are at fault, instead of placing the onus on the overstretched system that clinicians work in, a UK physician says.

In his keynote address to the Royal College of Physicians annual conference President Professor Andrew Goddard, a consultant physician, said: “What we call burnout, that sense of despair, hopelessness and loss of joy is not due to a failure of the individual. It is a failure of the environment they work in, the culture of the workplace, the workload imposed on this.

Some, particularly in the United States, have started to call this process ‘moral injury’ as it puts the onus back on the system,” he told delegates attending the conference in Manchester.

He said that since he became a consultant in 2002, the number of emergency admissions has increased by over 50% but with a reduction in bed numbers of more than 25%.

“The only reason the NHS house of cards has not collapsed is that we as a health service have been working harder and harder to get length of stay down,” he said.

“We feel busy, not just because the admissions are going up but because there are not enough doctors. The number of consultant posts we have been able to recruit to has fallen year-on-year over the past decade. The maths is simple.

Last year just under 1400 consultant physician posts were advertised and we recruited to 800. The number of medical registrars gaining their Certificate of Completion of Training was, you’ve guessed it, 800.

Worse still, we probably lose 25% of all doctors between entering medical school and becoming a consultant, let alone the large number that retire early due to pressures of work and perverse financial incentives.”

Professor Goddard said that in the absence of workforce and workplace programs, it was important for doctors to support each other.

“I am well aware, though, that local culture is driven by our behaviours as doctors and we too must step up to the plate.

Talking about the negatives will not achieve much…We need to highlight the positive ways we can support ourselves and each other”.

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