Half of Ireland’s hospital doctors exhausted and overwhelmed by work

Just one in five say work situation leaves them enough time for family or personal life

Low levels of work-life balance and high levels of stress were apparent among doctors of all grades. Photograph: Getty Images

Low levels of work-life balance and high levels of stress were apparent among doctors of all grades. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Half of Irish hospital doctors say they are emotionally exhausted and overwhelmed by work, while one-third are experiencing burnout, according to new research.

Just one in five say their work situation leaves them enough time for family or personal life, the study of more than 1,700 doctors shows.

Work stress is reported by over 80 per cent of those who participated in the study while almost 30 per cent of doctors say they are insufficiently able to cope physically and mentally with the demands of work.

The extent to which Irish doctors are experiencing exhaustion is higher than in the UK, Australia or the US, prompting the study authors to call for a critical review of the their working conditions.

The study, published in BMJ Open, surveyed 1, 749 doctors and is the first national survey conducted on a group of hospital doctors working within the same health system in Ireland.

Lead author Blánaid Hayes, former dean of the faculty of occupational medicine at the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI) says the results give “great cause for concern”.

“Surprisingly, in a milieu where evidence is the key driver of patient treatment, the evidence on the relationship between workplace psychosocial environment and employee health is paid little attention by those who fund and manage healthcare organisations. It is buried under the constant refrain of ‘putting the patient first’ with little regard for those who are instrumental in providing care.

“When work poses excessive demands with little control and support, its impact on both physical and mental health can be negative, leading to stress-related disorders, depression and other common mental health issues.”

The data was collected in 2014, following a period of cutbacks in the health service.

Low levels of work-life balance and high levels of stress were apparent among doctors of all grades. However, burnout was highest among male doctors, younger staff and doctors who were less able to cope, had a greater over-commitment or had a lower desire to practise.

Just over 70 per cent said they had a strong or very strong desire to practise medicine.

A failure to deal with these problems will lead to doctors retiring early or developing health problems, the authors warn. This will cost the State money and contribute to “intolerable” vacancy rates for consultants, they warn.

RCPI president Prof Mary Horgan said the college was pursuing “innovative approaches” to support doctors’ health and to raise awareness of the importance of caring for them.