Hospital consultant shortages perpetuating a spiral of burnout, stress and doctor emigration
– A doctor is now twice as likely to take his or her own life than a member of the general population
– Consultant burnout impacting patients with diminished quality of care
– Solution lies in fully staffing specialist teams in our acute public hospitals
Dr. Gabrielle Colleran, IHCA Vice-President: “Working in healthcare has always brought with it a level of stress, but in recent years this has been amplified by the deteriorating working conditions faced by doctors on the front line in our hospitals. These poor conditions mean that doctors cannot work to the best of their ability and are delivering less than optimal care to patients”.
Hospital consultants meeting today in Dublin (Saturday, 21 September) at the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) Annual Conference have expressed serious concerns at the increasing levels of burnout and stress now experienced by Ireland’s hospital doctors.
The deteriorating working conditions across Ireland’s acute public hospitals is increasing the levels of stress and anxiety suffered by doctors.
Research undertaken by the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland earlier this year, found that that a doctor is now twice as likely to take his or her own life than a member of the general public. The research also pinpointed several reoccurring factors driving doctor burnout across our public hospitals. These included:
Inability to take annual and sick leave due to such shortages; and
Inadequate replacement cover during leave.
According to the IHCA, that these factors cause hospital doctors the greatest burnout and anxiety is not surprising, given the ongoing consultant shortages and growing patient population in Ireland.
Currently, one in five of all consultant posts (500) are either unfilled or only temporarily filled, while almost one million patients are now on waiting lists to see a hospital consultant.
Doctor burn-out and poor working conditions are also increasing the number of doctors leaving Ireland to work overseas in countries such as Australia, Canada or the U.S. The Medical Council’s most recent report on doctors leaving the Irish health service found that between 2015/2017, 700 specialists left Ireland.
The exodus of hospital doctors and consultants from Ireland’s health service is perpetuating the stress and workplace pressures faced by those who continue to work at the frontline of our public hospitals.
Speaking at the Annual Conference, Irish doctor Dr. Toby Gilbert who emigrated to Australia in 2012, noted:
“Since I’ve left Ireland my former colleagues tell me that conditions for both patients and the doctors treating them have deteriorated further. Consultants like me want to return to Ireland to work but we cannot do so until conditions improve.
“The Minister for Health and Government have an opportunity to tackle the consultant recruitment crisis in Budget 2020 and bring consultants back to our health service.”
Dr. Gabrielle Colleran, Vice-President of the IHCA commented:
“Working in healthcare has always brought with it a level of stress, but in recent years this has been amplified by the worsening working conditions faced by hospital doctors on the front line. These poor conditions mean that doctors cannot work to the best of their ability and are delivering less than optimal care to patients.
“An airline would not, and is actually prohibited, from allowing its pilots to work longer hours that is determined to be safe, but yet we expect our doctors to work in life-or-death situations, despite being overworked and under resourced.
“Of course, patients always take priority, but we also need to take better care of the wellbeing of those on the frontline. The HSE can’t keep expecting our doctors to work in a way which is unsustainable and overwhelming doctors. If our doctors are burnt-out, our patients suffer, and the quality of care is diminished”.
“Fixing our current consultant shortage, by ensuring that each hospital team has the required number of specialists, would make a huge difference to the working lives of our hospital doctors.
“Creating a working environment where our hospitals have adequate numbers of doctors will allow these doctors to take statutory leave and have adequate cover during this leave and sick leave when they need it.
“This currently does not happen, leaving doctors to carry on, but storing up more damaging, long-term mental and physical health issues.
“Some of the best doctors in the world today were educated and trained in Ireland, but our health service needs them home.
“This will not happen unless our Government takes a more proactive approach to fixing our consultant shortage; improving the working lives of our hospital doctors; and, encouraging Irish doctors abroad to come home. This can build a better health service and deliver a huge benefit for patients through improved health outcomes”.