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Monday, January 29, 2024

Two in three UK doctors suffer ‘moral distress’ due to overstretched NHS, study finds

Denis Campbell
The Guardian
Originally posted 28 Dec 23

Two in three UK doctors are suffering “moral distress” caused by the enfeebled state of the NHS and the damage the cost of living crisis is inflicting on patients’ health, research has found.

Large numbers are ending up psychologically damaged by feeling they cannot give patients the best possible care because of problems they cannot overcome, such as long waits for treatment or lack of drugs or the fact that poverty or bad housing is making them ill.

A new survey found that 65% of doctors overall, including nearly four in five (78%) GPs and more than half (56%) of hospital doctors, have experienced “moral distress” as a direct result of situations they have encountered working in the NHS.

Seeing patients with malnutrition or hypothermia, or stuck on trolleys in A&E corridors asking for help or forced to choose between heating their home or getting a prescription dispensed are among the events triggering their distress, medics said.

“There’s barely a doctor at work in the NHS today who doesn’t see or experience this distress on a daily basis,” said Prof Philip Banfield, the leader of the British Medical Association.

The NHS is “impossibly overstretched”, has thousands of vacancies for doctors and has a quarter fewer doctors a head of population than Germany, he added.

“In practice that means we can almost never give the standard of care we would want, only ever the care we can manage. That takes its toll, as we see here,” Banfield said.

Key points:

The study also found that:
  • Nearly half (47%) of doctors believe the cost of living crisis is contributing to their moral distress.
  • 72% of doctors say being unhappy at work has affected their mental health.
  • 85% of doctors have experienced fatigue as a result of their work.
Causes of moral distress:
  • Doctors are often in situations where they have to make difficult decisions about who to treat first, or whether they can afford to give a patient the treatment they need.
  • They may also feel that they are not able to provide the level of care that they would like to because of the lack of resources in the NHS.
Impact of moral distress:
  • Moral distress can lead to burnout, depression, and anxiety.
  • It can also make it difficult for doctors to continue working in the NHS.