Subscriber OnlyYour Wellness

One Small Change: A GP and clinical lead on how to improve our health system

It is easy to design a more humane, compassionate training system and work experience for our junior doctors to help them stay here

Clinical Lead, Practitioner Health Matters Programme

Ireland has a crisis in staffing our hospitals and general practices with doctors. Irish medical graduates are emigrating permanently in large numbers, and we are struggling to fill many GP and consultant posts. This reflects in part unacceptable working conditions, burnout, and lack of recognition and value of their role and contribution.

It makes no sense from the economic or human point of view to train doctors who burnout or feel compelled to exit our healthcare system to work abroad. Being a doctor is tough, exceptionally demanding and stressful: we must do more to make them feel valued.

One of my nephews is currently going into his final year in college. He was successful in getting a 12-week summer internship in a large multinational organisation based in Ireland. As part of his remuneration package, he gets a Health and Wellbeing allowance which he can use to join a gym or buy a bike or whatever he wishes. He also gets a lunch allowance and proper breaks are part of the organisational culture. He is treated very well, no doubt because the company values potential employees.


How does this compare to how our junior doctors are treated?

After achieving an exceptional academic record to enter medical school. completing five years of demanding undergraduate education and training, they then enter a healthcare workforce which undervalues them in every way. Lip service is paid to their health and wellbeing and there is certainly no health and wellbeing allowance! They are lucky if they get any break during the day. They are required to work at the sharp end in an inequitable healthcare system which limits access to healthcare for individuals — imagine endeavouring to provide decent healthcare to a patient on a hospital trolley in an unsuitable setting.

For even the most resilient and committed healthcare workers, the idealism and vocation to provide good care is soon worn down. Add lack of sleep and long hours to the mix and this can lead to breaking point for some doctors. During the recent pandemic, there was an emphasis on supplying adequate food and hydration to sustain healthcare staff during their shifts. Once the pandemic was over the system reverted to pre-pandemic behaviours.

It is easy to design a more humane, compassionate training system and work experience for our junior doctors. Whilst we are working on the big picture stuff, perhaps we could at least get some of the basics right? Finding ways to optimise the essentials of wellbeing include good sleep, good eating habits and taking exercise should be non-negotiable. It is the duty of a good employer to make sure their employees are well looked after.

Treating junior doctors better will be the only way to keep them in Ireland.

  • As our health system begins to return to normal activity levels following the Covid-19 pandemic, we would like to hear about one change you would like to see. It can be something simple that annoys you, day in, day out, that is easily fixed, or it can be a small change in practice or attitude that would make life easier for everyone. Email with your suggestion or fill in the form below
Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health, heritage and the environment