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Family of suicide doctor with performance self-doubts urge action on NHS morale

Family members of a talented junior doctor who killed herself among crippling self-doubts and anxiety about her performance have called for action to alleviate the "crisis" of staff anxiety and low morale in the health service.

Rose Polge was just 25 when she killed herself in February this year, having wrestled with whether or not to continue in the profession against a backdrop of long hours and work pressures.

This was despite colleagues at her hospital in Torbay, Devon, describing her as "one of the best".

In a statement at her inquest in Torquay, where Dr Polge lived with long-term boyfriend Alasdair Hawley, her family described how many doctors worked "under terrific pressure and over incredibly long hours".

They added: "They cope with fatigue and heavy workloads in extremely busy departments.

"Doctors' awareness of patient safety issues, together with an emphasis on self-reflection and personal responsibility, can generate massive levels of anxiety.

"Doctors can feel a dreadful sense of personal failure and inadequacy if they struggle to keep working. Sometimes, the despair can be sudden and overwhelming."

The family said a recent General Medical Council survey identified the problem with low morale and heavy workloads, particularly among junior doctors.

The statement added: "Many trainers report that they do not have enough time to provide educational supervision and some consultants are saying that they no longer have sufficient time to support their junior staff in their day-to-day work.

"Our hope is that something will be done about this crisis in the health service."

Her boyfriend Dr Hawley said he left work early to talk with his girlfriend after becoming increasingly concerned about her mental state.

However, by the time he arrived home at around 4pm, she had vanished. The inquest heard she was last seen that afternoon near Anstey's Cove, a shingle beach backed by hillside.

Dr Hawley said: "I know she was struggling at work with perceived self-doubts. But feedback was that she was progressing well and was actually very capable."

Describing the last time he saw Dr Polge alive, the morning of her death, Dr Hawley said: "She looked distressed. I remember her asking me if she left medicine would I still love her."

He described how Dr Polge had doubts about her ability, particularly during an 11-day stint on the wards which often involved lengthy shifts.

Dr Polge, who was originally from Cambridge and went to university in Southampton, had been due to meet with her GP later that day.

She had booked an appointment to discuss her mood after leaving work early - however, she did not attend.

The court heard Dr Polge's mobile phone ceased use at around 4.20pm, and that her clothes were subsequently found in a pile near the water, while her car was left unlocked near the beach.

Her body was found floating in Portland Bay, Dorset, on April 1.

Dr Polge's death came at the height of tensions between the Government and junior doctors over changes to their contracts, and it emerged during the search for her that she had left notes to loved ones before she disappeared.

It is understood that Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was mentioned in passing in one note, which was addressed to her friends and family and was not political.

The inquest heard only that one of the notes read like a "for and against" list, although its context was not explained. The other note was described as being intended to be read after her death.

The inquest also heard that an examination of Dr Polge's computer contained searches about suicide methods, as well as possible career options.

Coroner Ian Arrow paid tribute to a "very highly regarded" doctor, and a loss to the profession.

He recorded a verdict of suicide, and said cause of death was either from drowning or hypothermia.

He said: "It is clear that she was unhappy, it is clear she expressed (her) concerns with her boyfriend and her GP.

"She has produced a 'for and against' list in her home and written a note at home which she left in her glove compartment. It appears to me that at some stage she has walked down to the coast.

"I'm satisfied that Rose decided to enter the water to end her life."

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