Dr Peter Moore: Why is doctors’ morale so low?

We still have fewer doctors per head than anywhere in Europe

We still have fewer doctors per head than anywhere in Europe - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Dr Peter Moore, former Torbay GP

Among the doom and gloom some good news. The Government has removed the cap on the numbers of places at medical school.

There will now be 9,500. When I went in 1969, there were 2,500.

Over the last 20 years new medical schools have opened up across the country including in both Plymouth and Exeter.

As all are overseen by the General Medical Council we can be confident that the quality of UK doctors will remain high.

I hate to admit it but the modern training is a vast improvement on the 'Doctor in the House' training I received; follow the great consultant and you'll pick up the odd pearl of wisdom.

The bad news is that we still have fewer doctors per head than anywhere in Europe apart from Poland and Slovenia. Even this figure is boosted by doctors trained overseas who make up nearly 30 per cent of NHS doctors.

Most Read

In the UK we have 2.8 doctors for every 1,000 people. The EU average is 3.9. In Germany, it is 4.25. Is it a coincidence that they had a better response to Covid-19?

Politicians often claim we have more doctors than ever before but fail to admit that many of our doctors are part-time, including 45 per cent of GPs.

I have no problem with doctors working part-time but you do not need to be an economist to realise that appointing two half-time doctors when a full-time doctor retires does not double the workforce.

Even with the extra doctors there are still problems. It takes at least 10 years to train a GP and longer for some specialities.

If all the new doctors work hard and continue in the profession it will take a long time to have any effect.

More seriously, there is a crisis of morale. This is not just the trade union, the BMA, complaining but serious concern has been raised by the General Medical Council who oversee doctors.

A junior hospital doctor recently said to me: 'I feel completely ground down by the system but I love the job so it would take a lot for me to leave it. Others are less attached.'

All doctors have to spend two 'foundation years' after qualifying before they decide on a speciality.

In 2017, almost 60 per cent of doctors who finished these two years did not take up specialist training. This was under 30 per cent in 2011. And 9,000 of these doctors left the NHS altogether, some giving up medicine and some emigrating.

At the other end, doctors are retiring early.

In the 1980s we received over 100 applications for a GP vacancy in South Devon. Now practices find it difficult to recruit any doctor.

So why is morale so low? I worked very long hours. For several years I was working 120 hours a week but I enjoyed the basic job. I was a part of a team held together with a 'Dunkirk spirit'.

Today, junior doctors still work long hours but no longer feel a part of a team. Medicine is a highly stressful job, literally dealing with life and death and yet many doctors feel undervalued and not supported.

As more doctors leave so the shortages get worse increasing the pressure. It is a vicious circle.

Rotas are rigid and imposed, often at short notice. Requests for specific weekends off are often ignored. In some cases doctors even find it difficult to take time off for their wedding.

Perhaps the problem lies in the term 'human resources'. Does this system focus too much on doctors as 'resources' and not as 'human'?

Medicine is a fascinating job with many more students applying than there are places. Most doctors I talk to love seeing patients.

Just tackling the shortage of doctors by training more is like trying to fill a bucket with a hole in the bottom.

You can turn up the tap but it will not solve the problem unless you fix the hole.

I'm delighted to see more doctors being trained but the Government also needs to tackle morale so that these new doctors enjoy the work and want to stay.