New figures show that more than 80% of senior NHS doctors may retire early due to work-related stress.
A survey of more than 800 hospital doctors by the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA) showed low morale and work-related stress were causing widespread marital breakups, sleeplessness and illnesses such as anxiety, strokes and ulcers.
The study reveals the huge amount of damage being wreaked upon the NHS by rising demand, long hours and increased pressure to meet targets.
The revelations that 81% of consultants polled had thought about retiring early as a result of mounting work pressures means hospitals are vulnerable to a lack of available doctors and the resulting impact that is likely to have upon the quality of patient care.
These numbers are a tremendous worry for the NHS as the skills and experience these staff bring to the service is clearly invaluable. If this many senior doctors are indeed looking to bring their retirement plans forward due to burnout and routine extra hours it means the remaining staff will be spread far too thinly and patient care will undoubtedly suffer as a result.
Staff recruitment and retention of existing staff is already under pressure within areas where patients need specialist skills the most. An increasing number of unfilled consultant posts currently exist because the high workload and widespread stress affecting the profession are making these posts more and more unattractive and seriously affecting the NHS’ ability to deliver quality care.
The HCSA findings show that 83% of consultants had admitted that work-related stress compounded by routine extra work was having a hugely detrimental impact upon their family lives, parental responsibilities and marital well-being.
Additionally, 80% said they regularly work beyond their contracted hours, 73% said they were having problems sleeping due to constantly worrying about work, and 71% said their health was suffering to the point that they were being diagnosed with clinical depression, type 2 diabetes, stomach ulcers, fatigue and high blood pressure.
A separate study conducted by researchers at Southampton University found that nurses having to work constant 12-hour shifts were also facing burnout, resulting in many being driven out of their jobs. The survey, which has been published in the online journal BMJ Open, questioned more than 30,000 nurses in nearly 500 hospitals across Europe between 2009 and 2010.
Earlier in the year, a paper for the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) entitled, “Patient safety implications of general practice workload” warned how the “persistent and excessive workload” GPs were facing was risking patient health by making them more susceptible to inadvertently misdiagnosing illnesses or prescribing the wrong medication.
The latest findings continue to raise doubts about the viability of Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s pledge that the NHS will have become a seven-day service by 2020.
Medical bodies such as the British Medical Association (BMA) and Royal College of GPs have repeatedly warned that there are simply too few doctors to fulfil such an ambition, and that patient care will suffer if consultants are forced to work overnight and at weekends.
This survey starkly illustrates the kind of relentless pressure so many frontline medical staff are currently facing. There is real concern around how initiatives such as the provision of seven-day services are going to impact on people’s work and family lives and it is all too evident that so much more needs to be done to support doctors and nurses particularly in regard to mental health problems and work-related stress.
It is absolutely critical that the NHS ensures it has the right numbers of consultants available in hospitals. I was involved in an inquest last week involving a 43-year-old woman who tragically died from septic miscarriage. The coroner criticised the lack of consultant input and the fact that decisions as to how to manage her condition were made without any gynaecology consultant being present.
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