Stressed junior doctors say lack of support means patients at risk


Junior NHS doctors have claimed that insufficient hospital supervision when they start working is posing significant risks for patients. With increased risk to patients also comes the added risk of medical negligence claims against the doctors and the hospitals.

Hospital Junior NHS Complaints and Deaths

According to a survey of 51,000 junior doctors by the General Medical Council (GMC), 15% found the medical problems they handled were beyond their abilities.

23% found failings in the 'handover' from other doctors on beginning night shifts, while another 1 in 5 thought their supervision by experienced colleagues insufficient.

The figures suggest juniors are not given enough information about their ward patients' states of health. The survey also found that 35% thought the induction before they started working was inadequate.

The survey follows research which showed that inadequate junior doctors' training and supervision is leading to unnecessary mortalities.

Typically the death rates for August are 8% higher than in other months. This time, specifically the week in which most junior doctors begin working, is often called the 'killing season' by NHS staff, while the day of the week when most new doctors take up their posts is known as 'Black Wednesday'.

GMC chief executive Niall Dickson noted that much of the frontline care to NHS patients is falling to trainees. "Making sure they are properly supported and supervised is vital for patient safety as well as for effective training," said Mr Dickson.

"These findings tell us that while overall satisfaction with their training is increasing… the issues they raise must urgently be addressed."

Mr Dickson added that while the results need to be studied in greater detail, "the early signs are that we are continuing to see pressure on doctors in key specialities, and this cannot be good for them or their patients.

"We will do all we can to work closely with those at local level who have the responsibility for managing and delivering training for these doctors to address these issues."

In June, NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh said that from 2013 all junior doctors will be obliged to shadow senior colleagues before starting their jobs: a scheme which some NHS hospitals will take up voluntarily this month.

"The intention is to end the so-called killing season," said Sir Bruce when the scheme was announced. "This is good news for patients – we recognise the change-over period in August puts patients at risk."

"Junior doctors are under stress as they change from being a student to a professional and they need help to adapt to a working environment when they've never done a job before."

Recently a study concluded that some 12,000 patients annually are needlessly dying in hospitals, due partially to junior doctors' mistakes, while academics from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine warned that doctors frequently give incorrect diagnoses and fail to administer proper treatment.

All of these types of mistakes can give risk to medical negligence claims as patients have the right to an appropriate level of care and not to be put in danger whilst being treated at a medical facility.

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