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The Next Generation: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Last month’s #MeToo moment in the Surgical profession was yet another wake-up call within the culture that has since caused alarm bells ringing in the general public. In the January blog, we made a point to reiterate that not only does the culture within the profession need to change to keep our colleagues safe (as a bare minimum); it needs to change in order to attract and retain the brilliant Surgical talents of those who have historically been asked to negotiate systems that have not been set up optimally to meet their requirements.  

However, one substantially large elephant in the room is the issue of morale among those working on the NHS. Despite individuals with incredible talent, passion and dedication bravely standing shoulder to shoulder with colleagues on the front lines, circumstances beyond ‘just’ the realities of coping with the pandemic, burnout, and the immense work needed to tackle the surgical backlog are increasingly heavy loads, with little respite on the horizon.

Whilst we recognise that our colleagues across medicine face many similar, as well as their own unique challenges, the Confederation of British Surgery have continued to underscore that the surgical profession is facing multiple crises that have already resulted in concerning trends - such as those highlighted by groundbreaking research published in August 2020. At the time data was collected, many Surgeons were considering changing specialties, or leaving the profession altogether, as a result of the challenges and risk presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. 18 months on, and we see job dissatisfaction is rife within the sector – especially among those earlier on in their surgical training.

While it undoubtedly produces brilliant surgeons, the system is far from perfect, and we are more clearly seeing problems, disparities, barriers to access, and the urgent need to make lasting changes for equality and support throughout the lengthy training pathway.

Over the last months we have seen many of our colleagues struggling to negotiate systems that can seem, frankly, Kafkaesque: being forced to turn around training modules on impossible deadlines whilst work is relentless; compensation or reimbursement delayed by months; and pressures to put on a brave face whilst ‘quick fix’ measures are announced, to name a few.

Previous Government rhetoric about ‘magic money trees’ have an additional sting when new measures seem to rely on the improbable notion that magic staffing trees will suddenly sprout up, and at a strategic level, there seems to be little thought given to retaining existing staff, much less attracting the next generation.

What does it portend for the future if surgical teams are being burnt out in a demoralising system, whilst other sectors have more attractive offerings – and how can we allow the future of British surgery to be risked?

Surgeons are natural innovators, and we believe that as the only trade union for Surgeons, we are in the best position to speak to the unique needs of surgical teams and their families. We are in a critical time, and it is imperative that we face it together; give ample airtime to justifiable grievances; and continue to seek solutions for the longer term.

As always, we invite you to share your views and comments to our social media platforms @UKsurgeons; and encourage you to spread the word about CBS to encourage awareness and membership to your colleagues.

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