That healthcare professionals across the profession face tiring working conditions will come as no great shock to anyone familiar with the realities of everyday medical practice. But fatigue and exhaustion poses a serious risk to the health of those working hard to support and serve patients - and to those patients themselves, when doctors are unable to work safely.
This is why initiatives like the Fight Fatigue campaign are so important, and as a longstanding advocate of measures to improve patient safety and doctor wellbeing, the MDU is proud to support it. Run in partnership with the Association of Anaesthetists, the Royal College of Anaesthetists and the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, the campaign aims to tackle the negative effects of shift working and fatigue on the NHS workforce.
Facts of fatigue
The Fight Fatigue campaign was launched in 2019 after a trainee anaesthetist tragically died when driving home tired after a night shift.
A subsequent national survey found:
- nearly three-quarters of respondents reported fatigue had a negative effect on their physical health or psychological wellbeing
- 84% had felt too tired to drive home safely after a night shift
- less than a third had access to a suitable rest facility
- 57% had experienced an accident or near miss when driving home after a night shift.
Dr Matt Davies is president of the Association of Anaesthetists, and is adamant that attitudes across the NHS need to be changed, so that everyone understands the risks of fatigue and how to mitigate against them. "We hope that by taking responsibility collectively for making changes to working practice," he explains, "we can improve working conditions for all staff, which will in turn benefit patient care.
"We now have increasing support from organisations representing a wide range of specialties across the NHS. We also have support from parliamentarians across the political spectrum at Westminster and the devolved bodies. We urge all our colleagues in the NHS to back our campaign and ensure everyone understands the risks of fatigue and how to mitigate them."
"I'm delighted that MDU is officially supporting our Fight Fatigue campaign," he adds, "and we look forward to working with them to help raise awareness of the issues related to fatigue.
Attitudes across the NHS need to be changed, so that everyone understands the risks of fatigue and how to mitigate against them.
The MDU's findings
"There is growing recognition of the impact of poor sleep on practising doctors' mental health and patient safety," says the MDU's Dr Michael Devlin, head of professional standards and liaison, "so we are very pleased to add our support to the Fight Fatigue campaign.
"Our own member survey in 2022 found that a third of respondents felt sleep deprived on at least a weekly basis, and one in four (26%) said tiredness had affected their ability to safely care for patients," he adds. "We hope that by adding our voice to the campaign we can continue to press the government and employers to do more to support exhausted colleagues. We have made it clear that this must be a key priority for the health and social care secretary."
Building on the evidence from the 2022 survey, a more recent canvassing of MDU members has found the issue continues to be a serious concern for healthcare professionals.
Our latest survey of over 840 healthcare professionals asked both medical and dental professionals how they coped with workplace pressures. Some three in 10 (28%) respondents said they used mindfulness and breathing exercises as a coping strategy, up from 16% the 2022 survey, while six in 10 (60%) said they took a break by exercising in the fresh air, up from three in 10 (34%) respondents previously.
Other sobering figures from the MDU's survey included:
- 88% of respondents said workplace pressures had increased in the past two to three years
- 68% said they were likely to retire or leave practice in the next five years
- 48% had reduced their hours to cope with workplace pressures
- 90% felt worn out at the end of a working day, with 83% saying they felt burned out
- 63% said they felt relationships with patients and colleagues had become more strained over the past two to three years because of workplace pressures
- 20% had experienced a patient complaint with the same number experiencing abuse or threats.
Despite this, nine in 10 (92%) respondents still said that both patients and colleagues treated them with respect.
Dr Caroline Fryar is the MDU's director of medical services, and says that the variety of methods reported by members in dealing with workplace pressures is, on the one hand, heartening to hear - but comes with a note of caution.
"Along with established methods, like talking to colleagues and planning ahead which around 60% of respondents used, many are turning to newer coping methods like mindfulness and breathing exercises to help get them through this extremely difficult period.
"Our members are used to dealing with the extreme demands of their roles, she continues, "but with such pressures set to intensify over the coming weeks, coping methods can of course only go so far. We are calling on the government and employers to put the necessary resources and support in place to help healthcare professionals to do their jobs and care for their patients safely."
Find out more about the Fight Fatigue campaign here: anaesthetists.org/Fatigue