COVID disruption hits training for eight in ten doctors

More than 80% of doctors in training say disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic reduced their access to the learning they need to progress their careers, according to a General Medical Council (GMC) survey.

However, despite the sudden and significant pressures caused by coronavirus, most reported their workplaces to be supportive, said they felt valued in their roles, and were working where a culture of teamwork was encouraged.

The GMC said it is committed to working with training providers to ensure the impact of the disruption is minimised, and that training is protected even as the pandemic continues. The GMC runs its national training survey annually. This year it was shorter than normal, due to the pandemic, but was still completed by more than 38,000 doctors in training and senior doctors who act as trainers. It is the largest survey of its kind in the UK.

Many of the questions in this year’s survey related to the impact of the pandemic. Trainees were asked whether COVID-19 had affected their ability to gain the experience they need to progress through the curriculum for their stage of training. Thirty-eight per cent said their opportunities had been reduced significantly, and another 43% said opportunities were reduced slightly.

Around half of trainees (51%) said they had concerns about their safety or that of colleagues during the pandemic. Of those, more than half reported that their concerns were not addressed in full or addressed at all. A further detailed analysis of the thousands of free-text answers in the survey will be carried out, to understand what prompted this response and to identify where action is needed.

Almost three-quarters of trainees (74%) agreed that concerns relating to patient safety were taken seriously where they worked, while 5% disagreed. Similarly, 76% of trainees agreed there were enough staff to ensure patients were always treated by someone with an appropriate level of clinical experience, whereas 13% disagreed.

Charlie Massey, Chief Executive of the GMC, said: "The disruption the pandemic has had on doctors in training and trainers cannot be underestimated. Our survey shows us that trainees and trainers alike believe important training has been missed.

"This is no surprise, but it is important now that we work hard, with training providers, postgraduate deans and others, to protect training as we cope with this significant and ongoing challenge. Despite the challenges, we have also seen many examples of good practice, including where training has been delivered virtually, and excellent teamwork, to address the sudden demands of the pandemic. 

"It is important to recognise that, while formal training has inevitably been disrupted, the pandemic is a learning experience for us all. The experience doctors gain during these challenging times will be valuable for their future careers."

The GMC’s 2020 National training survey report is available via the GMC’s website.