Dr Camilla Kingdon, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said:
It is excellent news to see that high-quality training has been maintained in all specialties during the challenges of the pandemic. What a remarkable achievement that is! However, this report also describes an extremely concerning picture of increased pressure and exhaustion. The level of burnout in primary and secondary care doctors – and among trainers and trainees, is the highest since recording began. That’s extremely worrying for the profession and, of course, for patients and their families.
While paediatrics as a specialty indicated a lower increase in the levels of burnout, any level of burnout is deeply concerning. What’s more, the report will not have captured the recent huge rise in the number of children presenting at already busy hospitals with infections we don’t usually see at this time of year. Many of the paediatricians I talk to are working to capacity right now and are absolutely dreading what will happen over the coming months and in the winter surge. This is on top of the pressure of family members being sick, a need to continually self-isolate and the pressures of working to tackle the huge backlog of cancelled clinics, cancelled operations and a worrying rise in children and adolescents presenting with mental health problems.
My greatest concern is that this report shows that even where trainees say they feel properly supported, they still feel close to burnout. The most supportive environment in the world cannot make up for low staffing levels.
There needs to be a significant investment in the child health workforce both in terms of numbers of staff, but also training. These need to go hand in hand – you cannot release staff to go off to be trained to do dialysis or work in a children’s HDU, if you don’t have the staff to backfill.
Dr Cathryn Chadwick, Consultant Paediatrician and the College’s Vice President (Training and Assessment), said:
This survey recognises the huge pressure junior doctors and supervisors are currently under – but this has been a concern of ours since well before the pandemic. The College’s workforce team has been working to address the needs of paediatricians across the whole career pathway. Last year, we introduced a new role specifically to concentrate on this aspect. Dr Dal Hothi was appointed Officer for Lifelong Careers and sits on our Recruitment & Lifelong Careers Board.
Improving flexibility in training has been at the heart of our curriculum changes over the last few years and Progress+ will continue to develop and promote that flexibility. Our Retention project is looking at a number of interventions and wider advocacy work to ensure that continuing to work and train in Paediatrics is a positive and sustainable choice. Our new strategy for 2021-2024 makes this work a specific priority for the College but I echo Camilla’s concerns that significant investment in workforce is absolutely crucial if we are to attract and retain the experts who treat the UK’s children and young people.