Belfast Telegraph

Doctor burnout putting ‘enormous strain’ on health service

A recent study shows up to a third of doctors meet the criteria for burnout

(Anthony Delvin/PA)
(Anthony Delvin/PA)

Doctor burnout is putting “enormous strain” on the health service, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) annual conference has heard.

Professor Gaye Cunnane, health and wellbeing director at the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, said that the issue of physician health and wellbeing needs to be urgently addressed to ensure patient safety and workforce retention.

“Burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion caused by long-term exposure to chronically stressful conditions without adequate reprieve,” she said.

“It is not the same as depression, but there are parallels. Burnout is a specifically work-related condition.”

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Health Minister Simon Harris is scheduled to speak (Michelle Devane/PA)

Prof Cunnane made the comments at the IMO’s annual general meeting in Killarney, Co Kerry on Saturday.

Health Minister Simon Harris was scheduled to address the event on Saturday afternoon.

She said a recent study by Dr Blanaid Hayes of Beaumont Hospital showed that up to a third of Irish hospital doctors met the criteria for burnout, and up to 10% met the criteria for serious depression or anxiety.

Prof Cunnane described the figures as “extremely concerning”, yet she said they were poorly recognised in the health service.

“They have implications for patient care – doctors in suboptimal health will find it more difficult to look after patients, putting enormous strain on the health service,” she said.

Prof Cunnane said the issue needs to be actively addressed to “ensure that the nation’s doctors are healthy and not being injured by the system in which they work”.

“Humans need to feel valued, to know that their voices are being heard and to be part of a community or team. This is true for doctors,” she said.

“When health metrics emphasise quantity not quality, when pressure is added to existing workers because of severe staff shortages, when multiple job vacancies exist because the working conditions are not attractive to prospective candidates, burnout increases.

“A healthy workforce can only stay healthy in the context of a healthy work environment.”

Dr Padraig McGarry, incoming president of the IMO, said doctor and patient welfare are very important issues for the organisation.

“It is crucial that health service employers particularly recognise this as a problem and put in place programmes to support doctors at all career stages,” he said.

“As doctors we can sometimes prioritise the health of our patients ahead of our own, so we need to be more aware of how we are feeling so that we can perform at our best. That way, patients will get the optimal level of care.”

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