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Self-care for doctors is not selfish but “mandatory”, the Medical Council President Dr Rita Doyle has said.
Speaking at the recent Joint Annual Scientific Meeting of the Association of University Departments of General Practice in Ireland (AUDGPI) and ICGP, Dr Doyle said the Council’s ethical guide described a responsibility on doctors to look after their own health and wellbeing, not self-prescribe, and have a GP. She also highlighted the passage in the ethical guide which states that doctors who are concerned about a colleague’s health or professional competence due to the misuse of alcohol or drugs, a physical or psychological disorder, have a primary duty to protect patients.
On professional burnout, Dr Doyle said doctors did not need more “resilience training”, but rather an increase in workforce.
“Most doctors enjoy their work,” according to Dr Doyle. “It is, however, when the labour or load becomes too much that burnout happens, that patients suffer. The cure for this is not an increase in stress management skills or yoga, but to actually just increase the workforce so the load is decreased; it is as simple in my head as that. All the other things are very good for maintaining health, but they will not sort out the stress levels doctors are experiencing just now.” Dr Doyle also described the work of the Council’s Health Committee, of which she is still Chairperson. She said it is “solely there to support doctors who have health issues which may impair their ability to practice safely”.
There were 47 doctors attending the Health Committee out of the almost 23,000 doctors on the register. Dr Doyle contrasted this with New Zealand, where she said there was an allocation of around 16,000 doctors and 450 doctors were attending its health committee. “Either we have a very healthy workforce or it’s out there and we don’t know it,” she remarked.
Dr Doyle said the Committee’s role was not therapeutic but one of support. She also said that most referrals were self-referrals and third-party/colleague referrals. According to statistics she presented, most referrals related to substance misuse and mental health issues.
The Health Committee reports anonymously to the Medical Council, emphasised Dr Doyle. “At the Council, nobody knows who is attending the Health Committee unless there are matters of law. The meetings and review sessions occur after hours. The Council is closed, nobody else is around, we have the same administrator all the time, we do not have computerised records about these doctors and nobody in the Council, bar members of the Committee, myself, and the administrator, knows who is attending the Health Committee and that is sacrosanct.”