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Fatigue causing serious risks to doctors and patients

Fatigue among doctors is causing serious challenges despite the implementation of the European Time Working Directive (EWTD), the recent IMO AGM was told.

Delegates passed a motion warning that fatigue is “a danger to both the staff member and patients and the IMO calls on the Minister for Health and the HSE to immediately work with the IMO and postgraduate training bodies to develop, resource and support policies to create a safer and healthier environment”.

Dr Charles Goh of the IMO NCHD committee, who proposed the motion, said that it was prompted following a recent campaign on the issue in the UK.

“I can say 20 years ago a young first year SHO was driving home from Drogheda, crashed her car, [and] died. She was one of my classmates,” Dr Goh told delegates.

“We all know people who have seriously injured themselves on the way home from work, after a long shift. We probably have all been involved in minor or sometimes major accidents on the way home, or have made driving errors, which are completely accountable to pure exhaustion.

“I think we all experience fatigue in one shape or the other. What this is doing to us is self-evident. What we don’t know is what this is doing to our patients.”

NCHD Committee Chair Dr Paddy Hillery mentioned the industrial action taken by NCHDs in 2013 over working hours, that ended in the implementation of EWTD.

“EWTD has had [a] significant benefit, but there is unfortunately still a significant number of people working in excess of 24 hours throughout this country,” said Dr Hillery.

“There are a number of people on significant long shift patterns, working for untenable patterns with very little break and very little recovery time. So while the letter of the law may be adhered to, the spirit of the law is not being done.

“We need to make sure that doctors practice safely in all regards and that includes their own health.”

Prof Cillian Twomey, retired geriatrician, told the meeting that if “EWTD laws are being flouted this organisation should ensure where that is happening that it is immediately challenged”.

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