Cancer Specialists ‘Too Stressed’

A quarter of young cancer specialists in the UK are suffering from stress which could affect their care of patients, researchers have found. More than one in 10 oncology registrars also showed clinically important levels of depression, according to the study conducted by the University of Manchester.

A total of more than one in 25 admitted having suicidal thoughts. The main reasons cited include being overstretched, keeping up to date with knowledge, fear of making mistakes, talking with distressed relatives, and poor senior support and team relations.

Professor Chris Todd and his team at the university’s School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work, together with Christie Hospital, Manchester, published their findings in the Royal College of Physicians’ journal Clinical Medicine this month.

The team surveyed all palliative medicine, medical oncology and clinical oncology registrars in the country with a questionnaire and a test for short-term changes in mental health. A total of 63% (401) replied. They found 102 with levels of psychological distress, 44 had scores indicating depression and 15 expressed suicidal ideas.

Prof Todd said the problem of long working hours needed to be addressed and called for a change of culture allowing registrars to speak of their difficulties without fear of endangering their career.

He said: “It is clear that specialist registrars training in cancer and palliative care are experiencing high levels of stress. A number of contributing factors have been identified and should be addressed. It would seem to be a dreadful waste of the current £200,000 invested in training to specialist registrar level to put them under such stress that they are unable to treat patients effectively.”

He said that possible solutions were mentorship from a different team or speciality, appraisal reviews, regular peer meetings where registrars can discuss any group issues, and team debriefs. In addition, senior doctors need to be aware of the impact they have on the working lives of their juniors and be as supportive as possible, Prof Todd concluded.