With your support, we can tackle the widespread stigma of doctors asking for help | Steve Crone

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Steve Crone

A worrying number of doctors are experiencing mental health and wellbeing problems as a result of working under increasing pressure and scrutiny, a recent Royal Medical Benevolent Fund survey has found. The charity's chief executive, Steve Crone, urges doctors not to suffer in silence. 

The Royal Medical Benevolent Fund (RMBF) has just launched a new campaign, What’s Up Doc?, to highlight the importance of supporting doctors throughout the UK who are working under increasing difficulty and stress. 

The campaign was launched off the back of an RMBF survey among hospital doctors, consultants, GPs and charity supporters, which revealed that an alarming number of doctors are experiencing mental health and wellbeing problems – such as depression and anxiety – as a result of working under increasing pressure and scrutiny. 

Yet despite their obvious need for support and advice, the doctors surveyed also said they are unlikely to seek help for fear of discrimination or stigma from colleagues (84 per cent), or are inhibited by their ‘high achieving’ personality traits (66 per cent). 

As part of the campaign, Oxford GP Dr Richard Stevens, also coach at Thames Valley Health Education England, has developed a free downloadable guide, The vital signs. It highlights key trigger points and warning signs for doctors coping with heavy workloads, stress and potential burnout, as well as signposting to organisations and support networks for those in need. Worryingly, two-thirds of those interviewed felt the NHS provided a poor level of support to doctors and their families.

Doctors surveyed were also asked to identify the key contributing factors to the growing pressures on the profession. The survey found that:

  • 80 per cent say patient case-loads are a key factor
  • 80 per cent say increased scrutiny is an issue (eg CQC inspections, pressure of revalidation)
  • 76 per cent say working hours are a factor.

Every year, with the support of our network of 250 volunteers, the RMBF helps hundreds of doctors, medical students and their families who are struggling due to financial concern or ill health, all in complete confidence. I feel privileged to be a part of this team. However, in reality, we know that this is just the tip of the iceberg, and there are many more doctors who feel too ashamed or embarrassed to come forward. Or perhaps they are as yet unfamiliar with the work of the charity.

We want to change this and hope that by raising awareness of these issues, and openly discussing them, we will go some way towards breaking down the barriers of stigma and shame. 

I would urge any doctor in difficulty to contact us, because no one should feel too proud to ask for help or have to suffer in silence. 

If you or someone you know is in need of support, please visit our website for more information. You can also download The vital signs guide from our site. 

Steve Crone is chief executive of the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund. Follow the charity on Twitter @TheRMBF

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