A British Medical Association (BMA) survey found just over a fifth (21 per cent) of doctors working in the health service said they might leave within the next year.
Meanwhile, half said they plan to work fewer hours and a quarter said they are “more likely” to take a career break once the pandemic has fully subsided.
Workload and the inability to take proper breaks were the main reasons many doctors had thought about leaving the NHS.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA) council, described it as a “deeply worrying” situation involving the potential departure of “talented, experienced professionals who the NHS needs more than ever to pull this country out of a once-in-a-generation health crisis”.
An acute specialty doctor who outlined their workload told the BMA: “My own mental and physical health will have to become a priority at some point.”
The doctor, who was not named by the BMA, said: “A ‘break’ on shift means I try to grab 10 minutes in my office to down a cup of tea and catch up on some of the hundreds of emails I need to read before inevitably being called back out.
“My usual finish time on these shifts is around two hours after I’m rostered to leave. I spend my rest days catching up on the rest of the emails I don't have time to deal with at work. It's exhausting.”
The doctor added: “I’ve started exploring career opportunities outside of the NHS. I don’t know yet if I’ll leave clinical medicine, but I’m seriously considering it. If the right opportunity presents itself I’ll go for it.
“It's a tough thing to consider, I love the NHS but I know I can't keep this pace up indefinitely.”
Of the more than 2,000 doctors who responded to the BMA tracker survey, 40 per cent said they did not have a place at work where they can safely relax with colleagues, despite knowing it would be a positive thing if they did.
The number of UK doctors now considering early retirement has more than doubled in less than 12 months, with 32 per cent of respondents (1,352) to April's survey considering leaving the NHS early (compared with 14 per cent last June).
Doctors and other healthcare workers need space and time to rest and recuperate especially as they face tackling the backlog in the care of millions of patients, Dr Nagpaul said.
The survey also found that 57 per cent of doctors said they only feel “partly” protected from Covid-19 at work, Dr Nagpaul added.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “This government is committed to supporting the NHS and its staff in the fight against Covid and beyond.
“There are record numbers of doctors, nurses and NHS staff – over 1.18 million – and there are now more medical students in training than at any point in NHS history.
“We are backing our NHS with an extra £7bn for health and care services this year, bringing our total additional Covid-19 investment to £92bn, including £1bn to support NHS recovery by tackling waiting lists.”
Additional reporting by Press Association
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