Hospital consultants 'suffering burn-out'


The number of hospital consultants in the UK who are suffering from mental health problems and burnout is on the rise according to new research published in medical journal The Lancet.

In 1994, researchers found a 27 per cent prevalence of poor mental health in hospital consultants, compared with 32 per cent in 2002. The prevalence of emotional had burnout also increased.

The survey revealed that an increase in job stress, unmatched by a comparable increase in job satisfaction was responsible for the deterioration in mental health over this time period.

Author Cath Taylor from the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, said: "There seems to be several underlying reasons for this worrying development.

"It appears in part due to increased stress from being poorly resourced and having responsibility for the quality of the work of other staff, together with trying to meet the expectations of relatives.

"On top of this, these consultants have an enormous workload coupled with insufficient levels of satisfaction from some areas of their work."

But hospital consultants are far from alone in experiencing these problems. More than half of British workers claim they have experienced symptoms of overwork or burnout during the past six months, according to research by HR consultancy Hudson.

The survey of more than 1,000 people found that a third claimed to have suffered exhaustion and a quarter had lost sleep or been ill because of worry about work.

A lack of control over work and lack of participation in decision making has also been identified as critical factors in psychological ill health.

These spiralling levels of workplace stress is loosing the UK an estimated 1,554,256 working days every year at a cost of £1.24bn, a figure that means 11 per cent of the UK's total sickness absence is due to stress.

Research last year among 700 managers by Personnel Today magazine revealed that more than eight out of ten managers believed stress was damaging the UK's competitiveness and six out of ten believe that it increases staff retention problems.

Cath Taylor, meanwhile, pinned the blame for rising stress among the medical professions on the endless changes wrought on Britain's National Health Service.

"The changes that have occurred in the NHS over the 8-year period aim to benefit patients, but appear to have a negative effect on the working lives of consultants," she said.

And her sentiments were echoed by William Jeffcoate of City Hospital in Nottingham, who warned: "If the direction and ethos of restructuring of the NHS continue unaltered, consultants will have to adopt one of two strategies: to leave the NHS or to compromise their professionalism."