Hospital working conditions compromising patient safety

A new report from the Medical Council says that exhausted and overworked doctors are treating patients across the country, at a potential risk to their wellbeing

The Medical Council has warned that current working conditions for doctors in Ireland are negatively impacting patient safety.

This is according to data included in the Medical Council’s new Medical Workforce Intelligence Report, launched yesterday in Buswell’s Hotel, in Dublin, which analysed the Medical Council’s registration figures with a focus on the demographics of doctors withdrawing from practicing medicine in Ireland.

Overall, 21,680 doctors retained their place on the Medical Council’s register in 2021, with 18,424 or 85 per cent of those being clinically active .

Systemic Failures
Several work-related issues were cited by doctors as reasons for withdrawing from the register, the report found. These included a lack of resourcing and feeling underappreciated and overworked.

These points were emphasised as causing doctor morale to decline. Crucially, they also impact the ability of doctors to deliver safe, quality patient care.

“The risks are evident, we have unfilled consultant posts, there’s ongoing growth in the general division of the Medical Council register and our medical workforce continues to experience burnout, bullying and working excessive hours,” said Dr Suzanne Crowe, President of the Medical Council.

“The responses from those withdrawing from the register tell a story, and if we don’t accept, acknowledge and act on the deficiencies of our workforce now, patients will ultimately suffer.”

Numerous doctors also said they opted to withdraw from the register because of cost of professional indemnity insurance and registration, an inflexible registration model, and health reasons associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Other issues highlighted in the report include an abundance of non-consultant doctors holding consultant positions, a heavy reliance on international medical graduates, and mass non-compliance with the European Working Time Directive. A total of 62 per cent of doctors reported working more than 40 hours a week.

A National Planning and Advisory Group
The Medical Council is now calling for the establishment of a National Planning and Advisory Group to deal with the issues highlighted in their latest report.

Bernadette Rock, Head of Research at the Medical Council, says that the Medical Council and several other bodies are aware of many different workforce issues that are impacting patient safety.

“Several versions of this report have acknowledged some these very challenging issues, and we’re hearing very similar things from other organisations, like the IMO and IHCA – so there’s a need for a collaborative focus,” she said, speaking with IMT.

Resolving all the issues outlined in the report could take as long as 10 to 15 years, the Medical Council says. But in the meantime, there are things that can be done to improve standards for patients.

“What the timeline has to have is achievements along the way, that we know things are on the right track,” said Jantze Cotter, Director of Professional Competence, Research and Ethics, speaking to IMT.

“…One thing is filling the vacant consultant posts; you can have all the students you want, but if you don’t have the consultants providing the supervision, the balance is off.”

The full report can be read here.

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