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Studies show up to a third of doctors meet the criteria for burnout

The new director of Health and Wellbeing at the RCPI  has said that the issue of physician health and wellbeing needs to be urgently addressed in the context of patient safety and of workforce retention – both critical issues in the HSE at present. Prof Gaye Cunnane made the comments ahead of the seminar on creating a safe and quality environment for patients and doctors, which will take place today (Saturday) at the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) AGM at the Europe Hotel, Killarney, Co. Kerry.

She will be speaking alongside Dr Una Geary, Head of Quality and Safety, St James’s Hospital, Dublin. “Burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion caused by long-term exposure to chronically stressful conditions without adequate reprieve. It is not the same as depression, but there are parallels. Burnout is a specifically work-related condition. “A recent study by Dr. Blanaid Hayes of Beaumont Hospital showed that up to a third of Irish hospital doctors met the criteria for burnout, and up to 10% met the criteria for serious depression or anxiety. Those figures are extremely concerning, but are poorly recognised in the health service. They have implications for patient care – doctors in suboptimal health will find it more difficult to look after patients, putting enormous strain on the health service.”

Prof Cunnane said: “In order to tackle burnout and ensure that the nation’s doctors are healthy and not being injured by the system in which they work, we need to actively address this problem. Physician health and wellbeing is an essential component of a well-functioning health service. Doctors should be doctors, spending quality time with patients and engaging in work that is professionally meaningful. “Burnout increases in direct correlation to the time spent on non-clinical work. Humans need to feel valued, to know that their voices are being heard and to be part of a community or team. This is true for doctors. When health metrics emphasize quantity not quality, when pressure is added to existing workers because of severe staff shortages, when multiple job vacancies exist because the working conditions are not attractive to prospective candidates, burnout increases. A healthy workforce can only stay healthy in the context of a healthy work environment.”

Dr Padraig McGarry, incoming President of the IMO, said: “Doctor and patient welfare are very important issues for the IMO, and this is the second year we have run sessions on them. It is crucial that health service employers particularly recognise this as a problem and put in place programmes to support doctors at all career stages. As doctors we can sometimes prioritise the health of our patients ahead of our own, so we need to be more aware of how we are feeling so that we can perform at our best. That way, patients will get the optimal level of care.”

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