One-third of doctors in Irish hospitals suffering burnout

IMO conference told burnout is most likely for young women doctors working long hours

Nearly one in three hospital doctors are suffering from burnout, the annual conference of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has been told.

Dr Blánaid Hayes, the dean of the Faculty of Occupational Medicine at the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI), said burnout was significantly more prevalent in doctors practising in emergency medicine than in any other hospital specialty.

She said risk factors for burnout included being female, young, experiencing low job satisfaction and long working hours.

She said some surgeons who had participated in the research study were working an average of 70 hours per week.


Monaghan GP Dr Ilona Duffy said in the last five years, six of her patients had taken their own lives.

“I had personal dealings with all of them and I pronounced three of them dead,” she told the conference.

She said it was important to tell doctors “you are not weak if you are sick” and need to take time off.


The chief executive of the RCPI Leo Kearns said it was extraordinary to hear that over 30 per cent of doctors were suffering from burnout.

He asked if this was an airline and one-third of the pilots were suffering from burnout, “how safe would people feel about getting on to the plane? You just wouldn’t, yet people think it is okay about doctors, and what are the implications for patients?”

The Minister for Health, Simon Harris, is expected to tell the conference on Saturday that a new strategy to protect the health and wellbeing of doctors would be launched this month.

Mr Kearns also told the conference it was utterly shocking that in 2016, when there were 84 consultant positions in Irish public hospitals advertised, in 51 cases there were two or fewer applicants, in 22 cases there was only a single applicant and no appointment made in 22 instances.

“This is extraordinary. We never really in recent history had difficulty in attracting people into these types of roles in Ireland. And now we are. We absolutely are.”

He also said in primary care there were 20 areas without a permanent GP.

“We aspire to a world-class health system. But I think we have a Trojan horse in the middle of it which is going to undermine that aspiration and expectation very significantly.

“So what is going on? Why is it? Most of it is to do with the experience people have of working in the health service . . . They feel that the system is just not functioning.”


Meanwhile, the new president of the IMO said the Government’s plan to provide an additional 2,500 hospital beds in the years ahead would be insufficient to meet demands.

Dr Peadar Gilligan said the recommendation in the recent health service capacity review for 2,500 additional beds was a minimum figure based "on a set of generous assumptions " that were unlikely to be fulfilled.

He said the capacity review had made clear that the figures set out assumed that various other initiatives including a major programme of investment and reform would occur at the same time as the additional beds are brought on stream.

Dr Gilligan said there were no grounds for confidence in the ability of the Irish political system to successfully introduce the sector-wide reforms necessary to support the 2,500 figure.

Mr Harris is expected to tell the IMO conference on Saturday that the Government wants to significantly increase investment in general practice to ensure its sustainability into the future.

It is understood he will point to the need to provide GPs with more supports to recruit practice nurses and that he wants to make progress on this issue in forthcoming talks on a new contract and on unwinding austerity-era cuts.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is the former Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent