Stress of pandemic laid bare: 70% of doctors at high risk of burnout

A survey presented at the Irish Medical Organisation's AGM warns of serious mental health risks for doctors 
Stress of pandemic laid bare: 70% of doctors at high risk of burnout

Seven in ten doctors are at “high risk of burnout”, according to a survey carried out by the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO).

The survey, of over 1,000 doctors in all areas of healthcare, was presented at the annual general meeting of the IMO at the weekend.

Chief executive Susan Clyne said these statistics are a “damning indictment” of the health service. 

Doctors cannot choose to work from home or have more flexible hours, she said.

“Covid-19 has had a dreadful impact on society. Covid-19 has exposed these issues, now is the time to invest," she said.

Burn-out is particularly common among younger doctors — among those in the training stages of their career 77.9% reported high levels of burnout.

This is “startling” Ms Clyne said, and a bad sign for the future. About 15% of this group also indicated they are thinking about emigrating to work abroad.

Among public health doctors working on the contact tracing frontline, 79.6% reported feeling burnout and 98% of them reported being short-staffed last year.

Among GPs, who worked with Covid patients and are now doing vaccinations, 63.8% reported burn-out risks.

Other findings include 66% of all healthcare staff reporting a struggle to find childcare.

Ms Clyne described the childcare concerns as a "bit of a forgotten story” but one that affects many thousands of people.

The IMO found 66% of GPs were unable to take sick leave in the last year as they could not find a locum doctor at short notice to look after their patients.

A similar figure (59%) could not find a locum to cover holidays or other annual leave even though this can be arranged in advance.

Overall, 36% of doctors were unable to take any time off last year and 80% of community doctors were redeployed, meaning patients missed out on their services.

The survey also found 96% of all doctors feel these challenges affect how they treat patients.

Out-going IMO president Dr Padraig McGarry said Covid-19 exposed a multitude of problems despite the hard work of many.

“Unfortunately the fragile nature of the health service came into sharp focus from the start of this pandemic as the reality of a decade of underfunding was laid bare," he said.

The pressure on hospitals in January led them “uncomfortably close” to being overwhelmed, he said.

He stressed this is “ a long-running saga” not something created by the pandemic.

A GP himself in Longford, he said everyday work for GPs changed completely and they took “a central role” in treating Covid patients and doing vaccinations.

Dr McGarry welcomed the government decision this week to grant public health doctors a consultant status and boost recruitment.

He said: “It is now time for government to create and resource a robust functioning public health system on a par with similar-sized countries like Scotland and New Zealand.” 

He was critical of the ongoing disparity in pay-scales for hospital doctors, referring to the “damaging and inequitable 30% salary cut to consultants appointed since 2012”.

Dr McGarry said: “Indeed this week the Tánaiste tweeted his support for equal pay for equal work, he will be held to this.”

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