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Doctor workloads ‘not sustainable’

26 June 2013

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Doctors working in the NHS in Scotland have today warned that the increased pressure and intensity of work in the NHS is not sustainable for the long term.

The warnings came following a debate on “stress and burnout” during the BMA’s annual conference, taking place in Edinburgh this week.

Dr Nikki Thompson, a consultant anaesthetist and chairman elect of the BMA’s Scottish Consultants Committee, said:

“I have been working in the NHS for more than 20 years and things have changed a lot since then. Patients can now expect to receive higher standards of care, new technologies and advances in medicine mean that we can treat patients who, 10 years ago, wouldn’t have had any options; and in the last 4-5 years I’ve noticed a big difference in how quickly patients are being treated. However the down side of this progress is that work is much more pressurised.

“The constant pressure of the intense workload makes me feel that while still worthwhile and useful, my work is not anything like as enjoyable as it used to be. I personally feel under pressure and I can see that the system is under a huge amount of pressure, so I have to be constantly on the top of my game to make sure I’m 100% focused all of the time.

“The intensity of my work is not sustainable and there’s no way I would be able to continue to work like this until I retire.”

Dr Amy Small, a general practitioner, said that the pressure and increasing demands on her time affected how she interacted with her patients. She said:

“The more stressed I got the more detached I became from my patients. I started to cut them off whilst they were talking, trying desperately to ignore little cues that they dropped indicating they had things they really needed to talk about… I felt their care was starting to suffer… I wasn’t the doctor I wanted or aspired to be.”

“At the age of 32, I have more years left working than I’ve lived on the planet. There’s no way I could continue to work at this pace for the next two years, never mind the next 35.”

Tom Berry, chair of the BMA’s junior doctors and a trainee in general medicine, highlighted the pressures of working long shift patterns:

“You cannot train, you cannot learn, you cannot be at your best if you are too tired to remember your own name.”