Rise in doctors seeking help for mental health issues

The number of doctors seeking support for mental health issues increased significantly in 2015, the Medical Council of Ireland revealed yesterday, at the launch of their annual report.

Providing support for doctors is key to preventing suicide and keeping doctors within the profession, argued president of the Medical Council, Freddie Wood. Offering help is also key to ensuring that doctors provide consistent, quality care to the public.

Throughout last year, 51 doctors were supported by the Medical Council’s Health Committee, which assists doctors in continuing to practise during illness, provided there is no risk to patient safety. This compared with 43 doctors in 2014. The most common reasons for doctors seeking support were addiction and mental issues.

Losing doctors to suicide is a huge loss to the profession and Irish society, and costs millions of euro, Prof Wood said yesterday.

“It’s unreasonable to think doctors are different than the general population,” said Prof Wood.

“At any one time in life, up to one third of people have psychological or psychiatric difficulty. Up ‘till recently, it was expected — probably because the profession was predominately male-orientated — that you had a stiff upper lip and you didn’t talk to anybody. As a consequence, the suicide rate in the medical profession, as well as the dental profession, are among the highest.

“Losing doctors from the register because of poorly treated or untreated mental health issues, is a huge economic loss to the country.

“I use the term ‘pastoral support’ when I initially became president two and a half years ago, and I got a lot of criticism from my professional colleagues, who said ‘we don’t need it’, but in fact we do.”

When doctors are experiencing difficulties, they’re less likely to perform consistently, said Prof Wood — and that has a negative effect on patient care: “So it’s not just about the profession, it’s about the knock-on effect on the public.”

Along with support for doctors, complaints against members of the profession were also discussed at the event, which took place at the Medical Council’s headquarters in Dublin.

The Medical Council received 369 complaints against doctors in 2015, an increase of nearly 20% on 2014.

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