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Burnout is impacting patient care, says top leading medical defence organisation

15 October 2019

Over a third of both doctors and dentists suspect that emotional exhaustion has contributed to a clinical error, according to a Medical Protection Society (MPS) survey.

MPS’s survey findings were revealed at its Ethics for All conference – one of the biggest events for healthcare professionals to explore the big issues facing the medical profession. The survey of over 450 doctors and 147 dentists, found:

  • 60% of doctors, and 61% of dentists, experience a decreasing sense of personal wellbeing
  • 37% of doctors suspect that emotional exhaustion has at some point contributed to an irreversible clinical error, with 60% saying this was related to a lack of concentration
  • 31% of dentists suspect that emotional exhaustion has at some point contributed to an irreversible clinical error, with 43% saying this was related to a lack of concentration
  • 47% of doctors, and 44% of dentists, often or always start the working day feeling tired

As the world’s leading medical protection organisation, MPS sees first-hand the consequences of when things have gone too far, and when its members can no longer cope – potentially leading to complaints or a negligence claim, leaving clinicians even more vulnerable to burnout.

To support healthcare professionals MPS will be launching a burnout workshop across South Africa in 2020 for both doctors and dentists.

Members attending the workshop can enhance their understanding of resilience, burnout and associated risk, recognise the key signs of burnout, and learn how to develop coping strategies to recover.

Dr Graham Howarth, Head of Medical Services, South Africa said: “Medicine is a brilliant career - there are few other professions with so many possibilities to improve people’s lives. However, the increasing levels of burnout I hear of from colleagues is particularly worrying.  When doctors feel burnt out it is not only concerning for them but for patients and the wider team. Doctors who are happy and engaged will find it easier to be compassionate and provide safer patient care.

“As a mutual organisation, it is vital that we listen to and care for members - part of the solution is introducing the burnout workshop across South Africa in 2020 for both doctors and dentists. However, we recognise more needs to be done, and we want to go further by using our international insight and experience to call for concrete solutions to help improve the work environment of doctors and dentists.”

Dr Alasdair McKelvie, Head of Dental Services, South Africa said: “A career in dentistry can be hugely rewarding, as dentists often have a strong sense of mission and purpose to help people have a better quality of life. But dentists can spend so much time and energy worrying about their patients that their own wellbeing can often be put on the back burner, which over time could affect patient care. I am all too aware of the increasing levels of burnout dentists are facing - It is vital that action is taken to ensure that we do not let the environment we work in reduce the sense of value that we get from being a dentist.

“Our insight and international perspective allow for efforts to be directed towards practical solutions, such as rolling out our burnout workshop - but we must also work alongside other organisations and government to truly tackle the endemic problem of burnout in healthcare.”

The presentation on ‘Keeping doctors and dentists safe: The shared responsibility to prevent burnout among the profession’ was given by Dr Pallavi Bradshaw, MPS Medicolegal Consultant and Education Lead, at the Ethics for All event.

The event took place in Durban on 13 October, in Pretoria on Monday 14 October, and will also take place in Cape Town on Thursday 17 October.

Notes to editor

For further information contact: Stella Zegge at E: [email protected] or T:+44(0)207 640 5167, M:+44(0)7583 034464 or call T: +44 (0)800 561 9090 during out of office hours.


  1. Burnout definition: Burnout is characterised by mental, physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism, increased detachment and a decline in professional satisfaction caused by multiple factors. These contributing factors can exist at a personal, team and wider system level. Burnout is not the same as depression, they have different diagnostic criteria with different treatment. Burnout improves with a break or time away, depression does not. Burnout is a problem that is specific to the work context, in contrast to depression, which tends to pervade every domain of a person’s life.
  2. MPS surveyed 452 South African doctors and 147 dentists in September 2019 which was part of a wider international survey of 1,170 doctors across the UK, Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa.
  3. Ethics for all event programme


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About MPS

The Medical Protection Society Limited (“MPS”) is the world’s leading protection organisation for doctors, dentists and healthcare professionals. We protect and support the professional interests of more than 300,000 members around the world. Membership provides access to expert advice and support and can also provide, depending on the type of membership required, the right to request indemnity for any complaints or claims arising from professional practice.

Our in-house experts assist with the wide range of legal and ethical problems that arise from professional practice. This can include clinical negligence claims, complaints, medical and dental council inquiries, legal and ethical dilemmas, disciplinary procedures, inquests and fatal accident inquiries.

Our philosophy is to support safe practice in medicine and dentistry by helping to avert problems in the first place. We do this by promoting risk management through our workshops, E-learning, clinical risk assessments, publications, conferences, lectures and presentations.

MPS is not an insurance company. All the benefits of membership of MPS are discretionary as set out in the Memorandum and Articles of Association.