Coronavirus Pandemic

Covid-19 effect: Thousands of exhausted UK doctors plan to quit

Prasun Sonwalkar/London
Filed on May 3, 2021
Photo (for illustrative purposes): Reuters

However, the number of doctors in the NHS is at a record high, officials say.

Exhausted by long hours treating Covid-19 patients, thousands of doctors in the state-run National Health Service (NHS) intend to resign next year, according to a new survey released by the British Medical Association (BMA) on Monday.


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The NHS has tens of thousands of doctors who gained their primary medical qualifications from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and other countries. Many medical professionals of sub-continental origin have passed away in the United Kingdom during the Covid-19 pandemic.

While half of the survey’s respondents said they plan to work fewer hours, 25 per cent said they are ‘more likely' to take a career break, with a further 21 per cent considering leaving the NHS altogether for another career. Many doctors attributed workload as the primary reason behind their decision, including the inability to take breaks or leave.

The number of UK doctors, who are considering early retirement has more than doubled in less than 12 months, with 32 per cent of respondents to April’s survey considering leaving the NHS early, as compared to 14 per cent last June.

Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: “It’s deeply worrying that more and more doctors are considering leaving the NHS because of the pressures of the pandemic — talented, experienced professionals who the NHS needs more than ever to pull this country out of a once-in-a-generation health crisis”.

He added, “Doctors and other healthcare workers have told us they need space and time to rest and recuperate — especially as we look ahead to tackling the frightening backlog of care of millions of patients”.

An unnamed acute speciality doctor told the BMA: “A ‘break’ on shift means I try to grab 10 minutes in my office to down a cup of tea and catch up on some of the hundreds of emails I need to read before inevitably being called back out. My usual finish time on these shifts is around two hours after I’m rostered to leave. I spend my rest days catching up on the rest of the emails I don’t have time to deal with at work. It’s exhausting.”

The BMA quoted the doctor as saying, “I’ve started exploring career opportunities outside of the NHS. I don’t know yet if I’ll leave clinical medicine, but I’m seriously considering it. If the right opportunity presents itself, I’ll go for it. It’s a tough thing to consider... I love the NHS, but I know I can’t keep this pace up indefinitely. My own mental and physical health will have to become a priority at some point.”


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The NHS faced an acute staff shortage before the Covid-19 pandemic hit the UK — but after treating one of the largest caseloads in Europe over more than a year, the shortage has reportedly further worsened.

Officials, however, say the number of doctors in the NHS is at a record high.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “There are record numbers of doctors, nurses and NHS staff (in England) — over 1.18 million — and there are now more medical students in training than at any point in NHS history”.

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