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GMC concerned about ‘state of unease’ in medical profession

27 October 2016

The General Medical Council (GMC) has raised concerns that a ‘state of unease’ exists within the medical profession as services throughout the UK come under increased pressure.

The medical regulator’s warning that systems of healthcare and the health professionals working within them are struggling to cope with a range of issues – including the impact of health services under pressure and fragile social care services – appears in its annual report on The state of medical education and practice in the UK, published today (Thursday 27 October 2016).

In their overview to this year’s report, Professor Terence Stephenson, the GMC’s Chair, and Niall Dickson, its Chief Executive, highlight:

  • a growing pressure on doctors
  • a ‘dangerous level of alienation’ felt by doctors in training
  • the impact which struggling healthcare services are having on doctors’ education and training.

Their introduction to the report says: ‘There is a state of unease within the medical profession across the UK that risks affecting patients as well as doctors. The reasons for this are complex and multifactorial, and some are longstanding. Yet the signals of distress are unmistakeable.’

‘There appears to be a general acceptance that the system cannot simply go on as before.’

‘Everyone wants a health service that is efficient, effective and compassionate. We all want staff to practise in an environment that helps them provide an excellent standard of care and where they are able to raise concerns and are valued for their skills.’

The report makes clear the GMC has a role to play in addressing the ‘state of unease’ – by making regulation as ‘light touch as possible’, reassuring trainees that they are valued doctors, and addressing the anger and frustration which has built up during the ongoing dispute in England between the BMA’s Junior Doctors’ Committee and the Government:

‘There are a host of underlying non-contractual issues, some of them long standing, that have helped to create this dangerous level of alienation among the next generation of medical leaders. This should worry not just those of us close to the medical profession, but everyone concerned with the future of our healthcare system.’

The GMC has recently started a special review to explore how postgraduate training can be made more flexible for doctors in the future. The report says work must continue to reform the way doctors’ education and training is organised. These reforms should be driven by a detailed action plan that must be developed following widespread engagement with doctors, employers, educators and others.

The GMC says it also wants to play more of a role supporting those engaged in workforce planning – to make sure doctors have the right knowledge, skills and standard of behaviour to serve patient needs in the years ahead.

Despite the pressure on the medical profession, the GMC is keen to assure patients that the standard of care provided by doctors working in the UK remains among the best in the world. The GMC’s data for 2015 shows that it received 7% fewer complaints about doctors compared to 2014 and the vast majority of doctors were not complained about to the GMC.

The GMC’s annual report, now in its sixth year, explores how the profession continues to change. Its data shows the profession is becoming more ethnically diverse, and the proportion of female doctors is edging closer to making up 50% of the medical register. The profiles of most medical specialties have changed since 2011 – some are growing while others are shrinking, and some have a greater reliance on older doctors and non-UK graduates.