Surgeons are emotionally affected when complications occur in the operating theatre and hospitals should do more to support them to overcome feelings of guilt and loss of confidence, a study has said.

Despite the common perception of surgeons as “tough-minded”, many, in particular younger clinicians, report that the personal fall-out after things go wrong during surgery can lead to feelings of sadness, anger and anxiety that could be bad for their professional performance, according to a paper published in the British Journal of Surgery today.

Researchers from Imperial College London interviewed 27 surgeons at two large NHS trusts. They found that serious complications were also more likely to make surgeons lose confidence and be “more conservative or risk averse in the management of patients”, which they said could be detrimental for patient care.

They observed that the personal impact of mistakes or problems were greater for surgeons that for other medical practitioners because of the guilt of “knowing that you've caused something by your own hand”.

The study recommended that hospitals put in place better support mechanisms for surgeons in the event of serious incidents. Junior surgeons should also be offered enhanced mentoring services and complicated cases should be tackled by teams of surgeons to avoid an individual bearing the weight of responsibility if something were to go wrong.