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Further evidence of doctor burnout and workload pressures

11 December 2019

The senior doctors’ union, the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, is welcoming a report from the Medical Protection Society which provides further evidence of doctor burnout and high workload pressures.

The “Breaking the burnout cycle” report shows 44% of 300 doctors surveyed are not satisfied with their work/life balance, and 41% have considered leaving the profession over issues of wellbeing.

A corresponding survey of dental professionals reveals similar trends.

ASMS represents senior doctors and dentists in New Zealand’s district health boards. Its own research has shown 88% of them routinely go to work when they are sick, and 50% report symptoms of burnout.

ASMS Executive Director Ian Powell says the MPS study is yet more proof that doctors and dentists across DHBs are at breaking point.

“We know that hospital specialists are having to overperform and overwork on a daily basis as they battle spiralling acute care demand, population growth, limited hospital bed capacity, and serious staff shortages”.

ASMS estimates a 24% shortage of specialists across all 20 DHBs but only around one-third are officially recognised by health bosses as vacancies and advertised.

Mr Powell says in his 30 years’ experience in the health sector and as head of ASMS he has never seen such despair, exhaustion and vulnerability among the senior medical workforce.

“Senior doctors carry responsibility for providing safe, good quality and timely health care. That becomes difficult when they’re overworked and stressed about not being able to give patients the care they deserve”.

“We certainly can’t afford to lose any more specialists out of the system”.

The MPS report recommends health leaders, managers and peers take collective responsibility to do more to identify signs of burnout among staff and colleagues and develop strategies to help them cope with workload pressures.

Mr Powell says while those are salient points, the root cause of doctor burnout is nine years of under-investment in the workforce and resourcing constraints.

“The time is long overdue for this government to stop hiding behind the folly of the previous government and show some commitment to addressing workforce shortages which are pushing our hospitals and doctors over the edge,” he says.


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