Accessibility to medication a key issue in addiction among medics

Practitioner Health Matters Programme treated 48 health professionals in 2017

An addiction and mental health support service for medical professionals has seen a 50 per cent rise in doctors, pharmacists and dentists seeking help.

The Practitioner Health Matters Programme treated 48 health professionals last year in its second year of operation, a 53 per cent increase compared to its 2015/2016 services. Nine consultants and nine pharmacists availed of the service. All nine pharmacists presented with substance abuse issues.

Dr Íde Delargy, clinical lead for the programme, said “clearly accessibility to prescription medication is a key issue” in the case of the pharmacists presenting.

Speaking in Dublin at the launch of the programme’s second annual report, she said that while young doctors continued to be over- represented “it’s significant that nine consultants registered for the service”.


It was “heartening to seen an increase in the numbers” and in those at higher levels because experience showed that “health professionals are very slow to come forward with health or addiction issues due to shame, stigma or fears of reputational damage”.

The report shows that of the 48 people treated, 36 were doctors, nine were pharmacists and two were dentists.

Mental health issues

Dr Delargy said over 80 per cent of the health professionals were back at work safely, and this demonstrated the effectiveness of the programme.

Some 28 practitioners presented with mental health issues, 14 with substance abuse problems and six with both.

More women than men presented, 27 compared to 21, and the highest number of medics treated were in the 25-to-34 age group at 18, closely followed by the 35-to- 44 age cohort with 15.

Depression, anxiety, stress and burn-out were recurring issues for all medical professionals with mental health issues, and 18 men presented. Some 10 women were treated for these problems.

Abuse of prescription drugs was the main issue for 57 per cent of those with substance abuse problems, followed by alcohol for 29 per cent.

Dr Delargy said it was a concern that so many young female doctors were presenting shortly after qualification.

Asked if this was linked to medicine being a previously male-dominated area, chief executive of the Irish Dental Association Fintan Hourihan said there had been a female majority graduating in all three professions for some time and the patterns reflected the profile for those age groups.


Dr Delargy said “women are doing extremely well academically. They’re outclassing the guys on that. And then they would tend to be quite perfectionistic, with a lot of anxiety running in the background on that.

“And when they come into a workplace scenario where things don’t function particularly well and everything doesn’t run perfectly, some of them can really struggle in that environment.”

Chairman of the programme Hugh Kane said they were high-achievers and "are seen as the people who solve the problems of the world, so how could they have a problem themselves?"

He said medical practitioners were sometimes put up on pedestals “but all of us in our daily lives struggle, and doctors are no different, and it’s really important to acknowledge that”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times