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'Undermined, dismissed, ignored': Almost half of Irish doctors in survey considered leaving profession

The Medical Protection Society has said the HSE should appoint a ‘wellbeing guardian’ to address burnout.

ALMOST HALF OF Irish doctors in a new survey said they have considered leaving the profession for reasons of personal wellbeing.

A new report published today, Breaking the Burnout Cycle, reveals 91% of the 143 Irish doctors who took part in a global survey do not have someone at work responsible for staff wellbeing.

Almost 60% do not feel encouraged to discuss wellbeing issues at work. 

“I have worked in many different healthcare systems. A few colleagues are very supportive, but we are constantly undermined, dismissed or ignored when we bring serious issues about staff and patient wellbeing to the table,” one survey respondent said. 

“I didn’t realise I was ‘burnt out’ until the last two or three months but looking back it was coming for about two years,” another doctor said.

I realised one day a patient was giving me a terrible history/crying and I didn’t feel anything, no emotion at all. I realised the patients didn’t deserve that so I decided I needed to leave. I was gone from clinical practice about two months later.

One doctor described burnout as “rife” in professional practice. 

Another, who is nearing the end of their career, said none of their four children would even consider general practice as a career. 

“My husband says it is all about work/home balance. My two older children are already earning more than me and with the hours I work many of my colleagues have experienced burnout. I am counting the days to retirement.”

The Medical Protection Society, which published the report today, said the HSE organisations and private providers should all appoint a ‘wellbeing guardian’, with a similar dedicated person working with GP surgeries and smaller local clinics. 

It said the results of this survey supported research by the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland that over half of practising physicians report at least one symptom of burnout.

“Being a doctor is incredibly rewarding – few other professions make such a difference to people’s lives,” said Professor Dame Jane Dacre, MPS president.

“But when I talk to other doctors, I am troubled by the increasing levels of burnout I see. The sense of value that doctors have is being diminished by the environment they work in.

When doctors feel burnt out it is not only bad for the doctors concerned but also for patients and the wider healthcare team. The obvious reality is that doctors who are happy and engaged find it much easier to be compassionate and provide safer patient care.

She said the causes of burnout include the growing demands and complexity of the job, tighter financial constraints and a faster pace of work.

Dacre said the problem is not unique to Ireland, describing it as a “global phenomenon”.

“If we are to avoid doctors becoming burnt out and disillusioned in ever greater numbers, we must take collective action. We as individuals can try to identify signs of burnout in ourselves and others and work to develop strategies that enhance personal resilience, but only with organisation level interventions – from healthcare providers and government – can we truly begin to tackle the endemic of burnout in healthcare.”

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