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Consultants’ efforts praised amid burnout concerns

32nd IHCA AGM, Saturday 10 October 2020, Virtual Annual General Meeting and Conference

There was significant praise for the work of consultants during the Covid-19 pandemic voiced at the IHCA annual conference. However, serious concerns about burnout were also expressed.

“We have a marked increase in burnout with nurses and physicians,” Dr Graham Billingham, Chief Medical Officer, MedPro, Berkshire Hathaway, told attendees about the US experience.

“Healthcare workers were already burnt out and Covid has added additional strain. We know that burnout is associated with medical error,” he said.

“It was a problem before Covid and it is exacerbated now, under the tremendous strain and long hours and clinical exhaustion.”

In terms of measures that could alleviate burnout, Dr Billingham said more training on the issue would be helpful.

“Clinicians are not very good at reaching out for help,” he said.

“We need to be able to allow those conversations and be able to support them… as clinicians we need to support one another, having a cup of coffee, make time for each other and opening those avenues… [we need] staggered shifts to ensure people have adequate time.”

He said that Covid-19 is “not going away and I think everyone needs to approach Covid as a marathon, not a sprint… we need to have sustainability in our healthcare systems and support out colleagues.”

IHCA President Prof Alan Irvine described Covid-19 as a ‘wicked’ problem.

“Something that doesn’t have, frankly, easy or straightforward solutions. It only has solutions that are, in some ways, unsatisfactory for many,” he told the conference.

“I want to say the response of consultants and wider healthcare professionals in the community has been really truly remarkable and it has been a great source of pride for me to be your President for this year and next. It makes me very determined to represent you as best I possibly can.”

HSE CEO Mr Paul Reid and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly also praised the work of consultants during the crisis.

“Covid-19 has turned our world upside down,” Minister Donnelly said.

“When I spoke to you last year, Ireland had the lowest level of critical care beds in Europe.

“We had the lowest level of hospital consultants and the highest waiting lists and our healthcare system simply did not have the resources it needed to meet the healthcare demands of our society.

“And yet when Covid did arrive, what we saw from already overstretched healthcare professionals, was quite an extraordinary response and I would like to thank everyone at the conference this morning for your professionalism and your dedication and skill and resilience
this year.”

Speaking directly to consultants, Minister Donnelly said “because of your efforts, our hospitals weren’t overrun, our ICU capacity was increased to the level required, and the survival rates from ICU were very strong.

“The response came at a very high cost. It meant our clinicians going for long periods without seeing their friends, families, and loved ones. It meant endlessly working shifts and rotas.

“This work from all of you saved many lives. It came at times at an unbearable cost and I would like to acknowledge that several healthcare workers lost their lives this year while keeping the rest of us safe and I would like to recognise this morning their sacrifice.”

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