‘Sometimes I doze off and hope I didn’t do something wrong’

Niall Kelly, a registrar at Mid-Western Regional Hospital in Limerick, says he worries about making mistakes because of the long hours he works.

“Going back on the day job after being on call all night is really tough because you have to keep your focus and concentrate on what you are doing,” he said.

Dr Kelly, who qualified as a doctor in 2009, said he had fallen asleep in the emergency department on a number of occasions after a night on call.

“I would see my patients and sometimes doze off for a second or two while writing up my notes,” he said. “I would get up, have a quick cup of coffee and then go back to my work, hoping that I haven’t done anything wrong.

“Thankfully, I don’t know for sure that I caused problems for patients — I am sure there have been some very near misses that I may not have recognised and I may not have picked up on because I have moved onto another job or another patient.”

Dr Kelly said he had not suffered from any stress-related incidents from the long hours worked but he knew of colleagues who had car accidents or who had been pregnant and suffered a miscarriage.

“You can never say it is directly related to the work patterns, but it is hard to assume that it does not play a part,” he said.

He also felt his surgical training suffered after a night on call. “You need to clock up so many hours in order to get skilled but when you are practicing when you are tired, it is questionable whether or not it is going to be of any benefit,” he said.

Dr Kelly admitted he was definitely a lot crankier after working through a night on call but, thankfully, his health had not suffered: “I am not always a nice person to be around the day after having been on-call. I try and hide how I feel from patients but I would definitely be shorter and less polite than I probably should be, especially around friends and colleagues.”

Dr Kelly said that it usually took him two to three days to recover from working 36 hours without sleep.

He worked on call throughout the night without a break once a week, on average, but there would be weeks when he was on call two or three times.

His working time usually consists of two day shifts and the 24 hours he would be on call would sometimes overlap.

Dr Kelly said he graduated from University Hospital Galway and did his first six months there working as a junior doctor.

UHG has introduced a system to reduce the long hours worked by junior doctors and Dr Kelly said it had been partially successful.


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