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More needs to be done to help doctors suffering with burnout

By Amandip Sidhu
16 August 2019

A compassionate culture is needed to improve the lives of those working in the NHS, writes Amandip Sidhu


I write this blog as a lay person of sorts. My interest in this space stems from a tragic event that occurred in November 2018. My brother – a consultant cardiologist – suffered from burnout and died by suicide as a result.

It is well-known that doctors are at a higher risk of suicide than the general population. There are many reasons for this, but the most common is a tendency to perfectionist behaviours that make doctors more prone. Above all, they are expected to deliver perfect and flawless patient care in an imperfect health system.

The issue of staff wellbeing has been talked about in recent months and years and while this chatter is constructive, I feel there is procrastination surrounding the adjustments that need to be made to our health system quickly.

My brother’s circumstances were not unique. He was part of a cohort of doctors who died by suicide as a result of burnout or mental health issues. He kept going until it was too late and did so for the sake of patients.

Fundamentally, my brother didn’t seek help early enough. This was primarily due to the fact that there is still a stigma around doctors’ health and ability to cope with excessive workloads with limited time and resources.

Simple things could make a huge difference right now – good examples can be found in the NHS Staff and Learners’ Mental Wellbeing Commission report, published in February. Reports like these make excellent recommendations and give insights into how the health system needs to place a high priority on ensuring staff have the right level of support currently and for the future.

I question why reports like these are set out recommendations rather than obligations. Having spoken to wellbeing leaders in the NHS, there seems to be a reluctance to embrace concepts like these as they are seen as optional. This apathy concerns me, as while this apparent lack of motivation to ensure better staff wellbeing, doctors like my brother continue to suffer and are at risk of severe outcomes. Doctors and other staff are suffering right now, day by day while this lack of action continues.

The important thing is to strive towards a consistently compassionate culture towards staff. This needs to be delivered from the top and filtered down through the ranks. A compassionate culture should be easy to define, and I would urge readers of this blog who are in a leadership position to reflect on their own leadership behaviours and tools to ensure teams around them are well led and are supported as best they can be.

I want my brother to be one of the last few to suffer. He gave his all for his hospital, colleagues and patients. His medal of honour now has to be the rate of change within the system – not just for doctors but all staff working in healthcare.

Amandip Sidhu is CEO and founder of the charity Doctors in Distress

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