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BJOG study highlights prevalence of PTSD among obstetricians and gynaecologists

News 28 January 2020

The prevalence of work-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among obstetricians and gynaecologists is revealed in a study published by BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology today.

Doctors can be exposed at work to events that they find traumatic, and obstetricians and gynaecologists may be particularly at risk. While the majority of births have a positive outcome, adverse events can occur.  

To explore obstetricians’ and gynaecologists’ experiences of work-related traumatic events, researchers conducted a study to measure the prevalence and predictors of PTSD.

A survey was sent to 6,300 fellows, members and trainees of The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. In total, 1,095 people responded. Forty-three in-depth interviews with trauma-exposed participants were completed and analysed.

Two thirds of participants reported exposure to traumatic work-related events. Of these, 18% of both consultants and trainees reported clinically significant PTSD symptoms. Staff of black or minority ethnicity were at increased risk of PTSD. Clinically significant PTSD symptoms were associated with lower job satisfaction, emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation.

PTSD also has an impact on maternity services as it is linked to staff leaving the speciality and 30% of trainee obstetricians do leave during their seven-year training. It also leads to staff taking sick leave with disruption and extra costs for the NHS.

Professor Janice Rymer, Consultant Gynaecologist, and Spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), said:

“It is extremely concerning that two thirds of O&G doctors, including both consultants and trainees, who responded to this survey experience traumatic events in the workplace, and of these nearly 20% report post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.

“The RCOG takes the welfare of doctors extremely seriously. It is only with a healthy and sustainable O&G workforce that the safest quality of care can be provided to women and their babies.

“This study provides even more compelling evidence that urgent action is needed to improve the workplace environment for doctors and ensure they are supported as well as possible.

“System-wide pressures are adversely impacting the wellbeing of healthcare professionals and we must understand how to overcome these and make the necessary improvements. In addition to our ongoing hard work, this paper makes a number of important recommendations on what future support care plans for doctors should include.”

Professor Pauline Slade, Consultant Psychologist and lead author of the study, said: “Exposure to trauma in obstetrics and gynaecology is a work place hazard and employers have a duty of care. There is no adequate system of care and staff report a culture of stigma and blame.  We need to look after staff so they can look after women and their families.”

Jeremy Barratt, Head of Research at Wellbeing of Women, said: “The mental health and wellbeing of our doctors is so important yet can sometimes be neglected - well supported and motivated staff are better equipped to provide the very best care for women.

“This research has highlighted the worrying numbers of obstetricians and gynaecologists who are exposed to trauma at work and trainees who are driven to leave the profession. It is vital that we adequately support our doctors to cope with the impact of work-based trauma so that they in turn can ensure they are ready to give the best possible care for women and their babies.”

 

Notes to Editor

For media enquiries, please contact the RCOG press office on +44 (0)20 7045 6773 or email pressoffice@rcog.org.uk

The full paper ‘Work-related post-traumatic stress symptoms in obstetricians and gynaecologists: findings from INDIGO a mixed methods study with a cross–sectional survey and in-depth interviews’, is published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.  

  • One in three O&G doctors may suffer from workplace burnout, found a survey of the RCOG workforce published in BMJ Open last year.
  • The RCOG is leading on initiatives, such as Supporting Our Doctors, to ensure all healthcare professionals, regardless of their status and position, are supported well and treated with dignity and compassion. This is essential to achieve a safe and sustainable healthcare service for women.
  • Together with the Royal College of Midwives, the RCOG has developed a bullying and undermining toolkit with practical advice and examples of the action doctors and midwives should take when they encounter unacceptable behaviour in the workplace.
  • The RCOG has also developed an e-Learning resource to help health professionals from all backgrounds improve how they deal with colleagues, provide feedback, and respect cultural differences.
  • The RCOG’s annual Workforce report outlines the challenges facing the obstetrics and gynaecology profession and the commitments the College is making to address them.
  • The report shows that the O&G workforce reports the highest levels of bullying and undermining, than any other medical speciality, and a 30% reported rate of attrition.