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Three in four consultants in Irish hospitals report burnout from Covid-19, study finds

One quarter had reported that either they or colleagues had experienced “long-Covid” after being infected.

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MORE THAN THREE-quarters of hospital consultants in the Republic of Ireland have shown signs of burnout, according to the results of new medical research.

A pilot study on the effect of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic on senior medical staff in Irish hospitals also revealed that one quarter had reported that either they or colleagues had experienced “long-Covid” after being infected with the coronavirus.

The survey of 114 senior specialist doctors found the group’s average score was almost twice the cut-off level for being classified as suffering from burnout.

The study conducted by researchers from UCD’s School of Medicine and a number of different hospitals in the Republic was carried out last month to establish the prevalence of burnout among hospital consultants after almost 12 months of the Covid-19 pandemic and to assess its effect on their own health and work.

It found 77% of consultants screened positive for burnout using an internationally-recognised measurement scale.

Two-thirds were classified as suffering emotional exhaustion, while nearly half assessed themselves as displaying cynicism and detachment.

Just over two-thirds reported feeling physically exhausted regularly, while half said they had regular feelings of reduced professional ability or accomplishment.

The study also revealed that 84% of consultants felt the pandemic had an adverse effect on their workload with 14% claiming Covid-19 had a severe impact on it.

Nearly two-thirds said that Covid-19 had an adverse effect on their mental health with 11% categorising its effect on their mental health and well-being as severe.

One in four consultants said they or colleagues had experienced prolonged periods of ill health or long-Covid due to the virus which they claimed was a matter of significant concern.

One of the report’s main authors, Anne Doherty, an associate professor of psychiatry at UCD’s School of Medicine and consultant liaison psychiatrist at the Mater Hospital, said consultants had expressed concern about vulnerable patients being disproportionately affected as well as inadequate resources and infrastructure.

Staffing issues and an increased workload were also highlighted by respondents.

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Prof Doherty said the findings which showed a majority of consultants were suffering burnout were “highly concerning”.

“The rate of burnout in this population is nearly double that found in a recent, pre-pandemic study of burnout among Irish senior doctors which reported burnout levels of 42%,” she added.

Prof Doherty said it seemed likely that Covid-19 had exacerbated the pre-existing strain linked to staffing levels and a high number of vacant consultancy posts.

Other possible factors are changes to work practice including remote consultations, a reduction in routine work and concerns about a shift of emphasis away from non-Covid care and vulnerable groups as well as childcare issues.

Prof Doherty said doctors in the survey had also identified challenges in relation to long-covid and reduced staffing levels due to healthcare staff being either sick or self-isolating.

The study concluded that a more comprehensive evaluation of the effect of the pandemic on frontline staff was needed to identify the extent of the problem and the factors which contribute to it.

About the author:

Seán McCárthaigh

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