Doctors' health and wellbeing: sources of support

Medico-legal concerns can be extremely stressful for healthcare professionals at every level, but there are lots of places you can turn to for help if you need it.

  • If you know or suspect your judgement or performance could be affected by your health, you must consult a suitably-qualified colleague (such as your GP, occupational health doctor or psychiatrist) and make any changes to your practice they advise.
  • Don't be tempted to self-prescribe to alleviate symptoms such as exhaustion or anxiety. Self-prescribing could leave you vulnerable to a GMC complaint. Instead, seek objective medical advice.
  • Speak to your colleagues and seek their support. They may be able to reduce the pressures you face at work.
  • Seek help early if there has been a clinical incident or the GMC is involved.

Of 1,000 doctors surveyed by the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund (RMBF) in 2016, 82% reported knowing of other doctors experiencing mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Key factors contributing to the pressure on doctors included patient caseloads, increased scrutiny and working hours. However, 84% of respondents said that they would be unlikely to seek help with mental health issues.

Doctors are often silent patients, reluctant to come forward and seek help, but we should not be afraid to get support when we need it. You don't have to 'just get on with it', and recognising our limitations is important to practise safely.

Seeking help

We should all be registered with a GP outside our family, who can give objective advice about how to prevent and manage any health concerns we might have. You may have access to an occupational health service via your employer as well. If you are unwell, it's important not to rely solely on your own assessment of your health or 'corridor consultations' with colleagues.

Every doctor has a duty to support a colleague who has a problem with their health or performance. Your colleagues will understand the strain you are under and may be in a position to help relieve the pressure of work. They may also be able to spot if your health is beginning to affect your performance. Accept help that is offered, and listen and respond to their concerns.

The GMC and doctors' health

Doctors who are unwell may come to the attention of the GMC if their practice is affected – for example, if there has been a complaint, clinical incident, or if the doctor is advised to self-refer because of ill health. No doctor wants to end up under GMC scrutiny, so it's vital to seek help when it's needed to hopefully prevent the situation reaching that point.

As well as this, GMC investigations into matters that aren't health related can be stressful and might also impact on a doctor's wellbeing.

In the MDU's experience, the GMC is sympathetic towards doctors with health problems providing the doctor co-operates with health assessments and shows insight. Many doctors with health problems affecting their fitness to practise will be able to continue working with voluntary undertakings agreed with the GMC, or with more formal conditions imposed by the MPTS. These will be designed to ensure the doctor has the individual supervision and support necessary for them to practise safely.

Sources of support

As well as the assistance the MDU is able to give to members in the course of helping them with a complaint or a claim, there are a number of other organisations and bodies to whom doctors can turn in times of need.

The list we have compiled below is not exhaustive and focuses more on national organisations, but remember that local support is also available in the form of a doctor's own GP, LMC and occupational health departments within hospitals.

Benefit and debt advice

Royal Medical Benevolent Fund

The RMBF offers advice and support to doctors who are eligible through ill health, injury, disability, bereavement or who are beyond state retirement age. It may help with money advice, payments towards living costs, awards for equipment/adaptations and top ups for residential care. It also supports those returning to work after illness, support for retraining and professional fees.

The organisation also provides some support to refugee doctors who have PLAB1 and an approved clinical attachment, as well as to medical students in their final two years who are in difficulty through ill-health, disability or bereavement.

Royal Medical Foundation

Open to UK resident GMC registered (or formerly registered) doctors or their dependents in difficult financial circumstances. Doctors who aren't UK qualified need to have worked here for three years. Can support private school fees.

The Cameron Fund

Open to GPs and their dependents only who need help due to illness, disability, death or loss of employment, offering grants, loans and financial advice. Can support private school fees.

BMA Charities

You do not need to be a BMA member to apply to the two charities run by the British Medical Association that help doctors and their dependents in times of financial crisis. The BMA Charities Trust Fund offers financial aid and advice to doctors and medical students in difficulty, while the Dain Fund is aimed at supporting the children of doctors struggling with money issues.

Elizabeth Finn Fund

Professionals including doctors, dentists, nurses and their partners who are holders of British/Irish nationality and who have under £4,000 in savings. Offers grants towards equipment, home adaptations and repairs, care home top ups and more.

Cavell Trust

Charity offering financial assistance to nurses, midwives and HCAs, including retired and students.

RCN Foundation

Offering project grants, bursary schemes, hardship funding and advice to nurses.

Society for the Assistance of Medical Families

Provides financial support for doctors and their families, and for medical students.

Health

BMA wellbeing support services

Counselling and peer support available for all doctors and medical students. You do not need to be a BMA member.

British Doctors and Dentists Group (BDDG)

A mutual/self-help group for doctors and dentists recovering from chemical addictions (alcohol and/or drugs).

Doctors' Support Network

Peer support for doctors and medical students with mental health concerns, via mail forums and social events.

NHSE GP Health Service

Support for mental health and addiction. By self-referral only for any GP or GP trainee in England, or any wishing to return to practice.

NHS Practitioner Health Programme

An NHS service for doctors and dentists with health concerns/addictions especially where it may affect their work. Self-referral for doctors who live in London.  Doctors in the rest of England can access the service via a referral from their GP.

Health for Health Professionals Wales

Funded by the Welsh government, a face to face counselling service for all doctors in Wales.

Enfys

Support for doctors affected by addiction (including alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, eating disorders and other dependency/harmful behaviour). Based in Wales.

DocHealth

Confidential psychotherapeutic consultation service for all qualified doctors (not medical students). Fees apply but financial assistance to cover fees is available if needed.

Practitioner Health

Confidential care and support for health professionals in Ireland with mental health issues such as stress, anxiety or burnout, or who may have a substance misuse problem. Free of charge at the point of care.

Educational resources

Learn and develop with the MDU

We offer a wide variety of online e-learning, in-house and on-site training and seminars, as well as a huge range of guidance and advice on our website and mobile app.

GMC

Guidance, advice and interactive learning tools.

Clinic for Boundary Studies

Training and other services for professionals facing difficulties relating to professional boundaries, ethics, conduct and career challenges.

E-learning for Health

Run by Health Education England. Wide range of online learning resources provided free to NHS doctors.

BMJ Learning

Provides BMA members/subscribers with continuing medical education covering clinical topics, professional skills and career development.

Doctors.Net

Professional network for doctors and students. Accredited CPD available.

OnMedica

Online learning resource aimed at doctors but also applicable for nurses, pharmacists, medical students, and other healthcare professionals. Registration needed to access all content.

Legal

Advocate

Charity helping users find free legal help from barristers.

Law Society Solicitor Search

Not pro bono but lists solicitors by specialty and location.

Advice Now

Online advice for common legal scenarios.

National Pro Bono Centre

Online hub for pro bono charities across the legal sector.

University of Law legal advice for the public

The University of Law pro bono programme offers free legal advice from postgraduate students training to become solicitors or barristers, supervised by experienced lawyers.

Whistleblowing

Protect

Whistleblowing charity offering confidential advice to anyone wanting to raise a concern at work.

This guidance was correct at publication 12/02/2019. It is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

You may also be interested in

Guide

Doctors' health and wellbeing: sources of support

Medico-legal concerns can be extremely stressful for healthcare professionals at every level, but there are lots of places you can turn to for help if you need it.

Read more
Guide

Coping with complaints stress

Facing a complaint or a claim can be difficult but there are steps you can take to help manage the stress involved.

Read more
News

Common queries from foundation doctors

Dr Ellie Mein shares some of the most common reasons foundation doctors call the MDU, and explains what you can do if you find yourself in a similar situation.

Read more