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Surge in doctors suffering ‘moral distress’ due to cost of living crisis

Two in three UK doctors are experiencing ‘moral distress’ due to the cost of living crisis and the current challenges facing the NHS.

Two in three UK doctors are experiencing ‘moral distress’ due to the cost of living crisis and the current challenges facing the NHS.

The research from the medical defence organisation MDDUS found that 65% of doctors say that patients are presenting with conditions that are preventable through better diet and living conditions. This is leading to ‘moral distress’ as they unable to provide the care they want and expect to deliver due to issues such as lack of resources and delays.

The most prevalent conditions are new severe psychological problems, with 76% of doctors saying they’ve encountered this. Doctors have also seen an increase in the Victorian-era illness scurvy (14%).

Other preventable and treatable conditions doctors said they have come across included asthma (53%), folate deficiency (46%) and other vitamin deficiencies. (50%).

Moral distress could have impact on retention of NHS doctors

The 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.

Dr John Holden, Chief Medical Officer, MDDUS, said: “These findings tell us that a wholly unacceptable number of doctors – almost two in three – have experienced moral distress due to the cost-of-living crisis and the challenges facing the NHS.

“Being a doctor can, and should, be one of the most fulfilling jobs in the world. But right now, the scale of the pressure on the healthcare system is preventing doctors from being able to care for their patients the way they want to. The results reveal the full extent of the psychological damage a worryingly large number of doctors experience because of problems they encounter in their working lives that they feel powerless to fix.

“The range of issues doctors face as a byproduct of their moral distress is extensive, including anger, sadness, insomnia, relationship difficulties and more. And what’s most concerning is how this can impact doctors’ safe practice.

“The situations facing patients that frequently trigger feelings of moral distress in doctors include waiting times, lack of beds, understaffing and having to practice medicine not to professional standards due to system constraints. This research paints an alarming picture of the impact on both doctors’ professional practice and personal wellbeing.”

The findings have also highlighted the impact moral distress could have on the retention of NHS doctors, with 40% saying they have considered leaving the medical profession altogether or retiring early due to the burden.

Of the doctors who said their moral distress was due to the current challenges facing the NHS, 70% reported feeling unhappy at work, which led to trouble sleeping at night. A further 53% said they were having more arguments with friends and family.

Detrimental impact on safe practice

Meanwhile, 81% of doctors struggling with moral distress due to the challenges facing the NHS said their unhappiness at work was affecting their mental health, and 74% said they were concerned that their unhappiness could have a detrimental impact on their safe practice.

Dr John Holden added that the emotional toll of moral distress should not be downplayed, as it has the capability to erode the morale and resilience in already overburdened doctors.

“With an NHS staffing crisis ongoing, we absolutely cannot afford to lose any of our highly skilled doctors. Our healthcare system needs adequate funding and resources to be able to provide the care patients deserve. Doctors also need to feel empowered to speak up and challenge issues,” he said.

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