Public Release: 

Mental health of UK hospital consultants in decline

EMBARGO: 00:01H (London time) Friday August 26, 2005. In North America the embargo lifts at 18:30H ET Thursday August 25, 2005.


The prevalence of poor mental health and burnout among hospital consultants in the UK increased in the period 1994 to 2002, according to a research letter in this week's issue of THE LANCET.

In 1994, the Cancer Research UK London Psychosocial Group surveyed over 800 UK hospital consultants and found a 27% prevalence of poor mental health. The respondents were from five specialities: gastroenterology, radiology, surgical oncology, clinical oncology, and medical oncology. In 2002, the researchers re-assessed the situation by re-surveying over 700 of the 1994 study group. In addition to this, they also surveyed a new group of over 1000 hospital consultants from the same specialties. They found that the proportion of consultants with psychiatric illness increased to 32% in 2002. The prevalence of burnout also increased from 32% in 1994 to 41% in 2002.

The survey revealed that an increase in job stress, unmatched by a comparable increase in job satisfaction accounted for the deterioration in mental health over this time period. The researchers found that clinical oncologists had the greatest increase in the prevalence of poor mental health and burnout compared with the other specialties. The authors state that approaches designed to reduce consultants' workload and enhance their job satisfaction are urgently needed.

Author Cath Taylor concludes: "There seems to be several underlying reasons for this worrying development. It appears in part due to increased stress from being poorly resourced and having responsibility for the quality of the work of other staff, together with trying to meet the expectations of relatives. On top of this, these consultants have an enormous workload coupled with insufficient levels of satisfaction from some areas of their work. (Quote by e-mail; does not appear in published paper)

She adds: "The changes that have occurred in the NHS over the 8-year period aim to benefit patients, but appear to have a negative effect on the working lives of consultants."

In an accompanying comment William Jeffcoate (City Hospital, Nottingham, UK) states: "If the direction and ethos of restructuring of the NHS continue unaltered, consultants will have to adopt one of two strategies: to leave the NHS or to compromise their professionalism."


Contact: For media enquiries please contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 7061 8300 or, out-of-hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.

Comment: Dr William J Jeffcoate, Department of Diabetes and Endocrinology, City Hospital, Nottingham, NG5 1PB, UK. T) 01158 405859

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