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IMO AGM 2021- Female doctors predominant in reporting difficulty securing childcare

IMO AGM 2021, Virtual Conference, 17 April

Read the full IMO AGM 2021 coverage here

Females were predominant among the 66 per cent of doctors who reported difficulty securing childcare during the pandemic, according to responses to an IMO survey on doctors’ mental health and wellbeing. Six-in-10 of the 66 per cent of respondents to this survey question were female. Overall, 38 per cent of respondents reported having a carer role in addition to being a doctor (ie, carer for young children, children with special needs, and/or older or sick relatives).

The results of the survey were outlined by IMO CEO Ms Susan Clyne at the union’s virtual annual general meeting (AGM) on 17 April. There were over 1,000 respondents to the survey, 56 per cent of whom were female and 44 per cent male. The survey was undertaken in late 2020 and early 2021.

Ms Susan Clyne

Headline findings included that seven-out-of-10 doctors were at high risk of burnout, with public health doctors and NCHDs at the highest risk; 79 per cent of doctors reported that their mental health was made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic; and 90 per cent of doctors reported having experienced some form of depression, anxiety, stress, emotional stress, or other mental health condition related to, or made worse by, work. Some 57 per cent reported not being able to take their scheduled breaks to eat/drink during the working day.

Ms Clyne described the results as “quite shocking”. Some 62 per cent of public health doctors, who have been at the forefront of pandemic response, reported not feeling valued during the crisis. Ninety-eight per cent reported experiencing staffing shortages.

“Unsurprisingly, public health doctors show the highest rate of burnout,” stated the report. “Public health doctors have been the first line of defence in the fight against Covid and since the start of the pandemic they’ve worked extended hours as well as being on call.

Unsurprisingly, public health doctors show the highest rate of burnout

“In addition they have faced significant professional challenges in carrying out their statutory duties in health protection due to the under-resourcing of public health medicine. While public health doctors feel appreciated by their colleagues on the frontline, their battle for a consultant contract has left them feeling significantly undervalued at a time when the scientific evidence and their public health expertise is most required.”

Other findings showed that sourcing locum cover is a growing issue for GPs. Some 59 per cent of GPs stated they were unable to take time off due to difficulties in sourcing locum cover, while 66 per cent had been unable to take sick leave. This compared to an ICGP study in 2015 where 44 per cent of GPs had expressed difficulties in recruiting a locum.

“General practice has been shown to be flexible and adaptable during the Covid pandemic, but GPs have ongoing concerns in relation to potential delayed diagnosis of non-Covid patients and staffing shortages,” added the report.
Some 55 per cent of consultants reported being required to cover for colleagues when the HSE had not secured appropriate locum support.

“Already short-staffed and under pressure for many years, the talk amongst consultants is about how they can step up during this crisis and what they can do to help their patients,” according to the survey report.

“However, in quieter moments and when there is some time for reflection, underneath this stoic image, there is exhaustion and fatigue. Staff shortages, patient backlogs, increased use of telemedicine/video consultations contribute to the anxieties and concerns by consultants for their own welfare, but also for patients and the clinical service.”

Some 86 per cent of NCHDs reported being required to cover for colleagues when the HSE had not secured a locum.
According to the report, quality of training had suffered due to Covid-19, with reduced patient contact and a negative impact on NCHDs’ clinical supervision.

“Online training has also reduced the opportunities for congeniality and the softer conversations with colleagues that support young doctors with their mental health and career decisions.”

Some 80 per cent of community health doctors reported being redeployed since the start of the pandemic, while 60 per cent reported not feeling valued during the crisis. Their roles in community services had changed considerably in recent years, with a number of schemes in which they had involvement either being transferred to other Government departments/agencies or being completely discontinued.

The report found that actions were needed to address stigma, encourage help-seeking, and promote self-care among doctors. However, it said the “manpower crisis” in the Irish healthcare system had put “enormous pressure” on doctors and “largely accounts for the high levels of burnout and stress seen in this survey”. This issue needed to be “urgently” addressed.

Read the full IMO AGM 2021 coverage here

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