One in three maternity doctors in the UK are 'burnt out'

One in three maternity doctors in the UK are ‘burnt out’ and at risk of making harmful mistakes, study warns

  • More than one in three maternity doctors admitted they suffer from burnout
  • Makes them care about patients and their job less, increasing risk of mistake 
  • Means they avoid difficult cases and over-prescribe medications out of easiness

Newborns and their mothers are being put at risk of substandard care because medics are so exhausted, a study has warned.

Researchers from Imperial College London found more than one in three maternity doctors are suffering from burnout. 

They claim this makes staff care less about patients and their job – which increases the risk of blunders being made.

The survey of 3,000 obstetricians and gynaecologists also found stressed-out doctors were four times more likely to show signs of ‘defensive’ medical practices.

These include avoiding difficult cases or procedures and over-prescribing drugs out of easiness, both of which can put mothers and their babies at harm.

Newborns and their mothers are being put at risk of substandard care because one in three maternity doctors are too stressed out (file)

Burnt-out doctors were also six times more likely to experience suicidal thoughts and four times more likely to report depression, the survey found.

They were three times more likely to suffer from anxiety, irritability or anger, and commonly had sleep and relationship problems.

Researchers found 36 per cent of all qualified doctors fell into the stressed-out category, while 46 per cent of trainees were also likely to be sufferers.

Lead researcher Professor Tom Bourne said: ‘We found the results of this survey very worrying. The levels of burnout were high, particularly amongst younger doctors.

‘This has serious implications for patients, as we know burnout reduces patient satisfaction, safety and standards of care.


Burnout is a condition triggered by long-term stress and overload at work.

In particular, it is associated with emotional exhaustion, lack of empathy and connection with others, and feeling a lack of personal accomplishment. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) says it has three defining symptoms:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy

‘These results point to an environment in UK hospitals that makes staff unwell and less able to carry out their jobs safely.’

Dr. Alison Wright, vice president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: ‘This important study provides compelling evidence that there is an urgent need to improve the workplace environment for doctors. 

‘We know burnout is associated with worse outcomes for patients, as well as a lack of empathy and rapport. 

‘It is vital the issue of burnout is addressed, so we can sustainably deliver the very best care for our patients.’ 

The study, the biggest of its kind into maternity staff and their mental health, was published in the journal BMJ Open.  

The research team caution that people who are suffering from burnout may have been more likely to respond to the survey, which may have affected the result. 

Burnout is defined as ‘chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed’ by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

It has three defining symptoms – feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance and cynicism from the job, as well as reduced work output.  

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