UK hospital consultants feeling the strain

UK hospital consultants are experiencing poorer mental health and more burnout than they did in 1994. That’s according to Cath Taylor and colleagues who surveyed hundreds of consultants in 1994 and then again in 2002. They used the 12-item General Health Questionnaire, which includes questions on the participant’s ability to concentrate, their mood, stress and confidence. Participants also completed questionnaires relating to job stress, burnout and job satisfaction. Eight hundred and eighty-two consultants completed the survey in 1994, 517 of the same consultants then completed the survey in 2002, plus 791 others.

“…job satisfaction can protect against the detrimental effects of job stress”

Overall, 32 per cent of the sample reported poor levels of mental health in 2002, compared with 27 per cent of the sample in 1994. The prevalence of burnout had increased from 32 to 42 per cent, and job stress from 37 to 41 per cent. Broken down by medical speciality, these changes were significant for clinical and surgical oncologists, but not for gastroenterologists, radiologists or medical oncologists. The pattern could be explained by the fact the clinical and surgical oncologists reported the increased job stress, but not the increased job satisfaction, reported by the other specialists. Previous work by the study’s authors has shown that job satisfaction can protect against the detrimental effects of job stress.

“The deterioration in the mental health of UK consultants we report is cause for concern to the consultants themselves, to their families, and to the patients for whom they provide care”, the authors said.

The NHS has changed a lot in recent years following increased government investment and reform. The workforce has grown, employment contracts have changed, targets have been introduced, as have formal procedures for consultant appraisal. “The changes that have occurred in the NHS over the [study’s] 8-year period aim to benefit patients, but appear to have a negative effect on the working lives of consultants”, the study concludes.
Taylor, C., Graham, J., Potts, H.W.W., Richards, M.A. & Ramirez, A.J. (2005). Changes in mental health of UK hospital consultants since the mid-1990s. The Lancet, 366, 742-744.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.