29 Mar 2021

South Island doctor, dentist burnout: ASMS survey finds two thirds affected

7:22 pm on 29 March 2021

Almost two-thirds of senior doctors and dentists in Otago and Southland feel burnt out, according to a survey from a union representing the salaried workers.

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ASMS says the burnout is also having negatives consequences for the health workers' ability to give best care to the patients (File image). Photo: 123rf.com

More than 2100 members responded to the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists' (ASMS) survey, of which early results were released in its March issue of The Specialist magazine.

ASMS executive director Sarah Dalton said there were multiple issues confronting staff at the Southern DHB.

"It's a perfect storm of shortage, rationing, unmet need, and not fit-for-purpose workspaces, so you keep battling that year after year it is going to wear you down. It's having negative consequences for our members but it's also having negatives consequences for their ability to give best care to the patients."

The issues at Southern District Health Board were echoed elsewhere around the country.

Nationally, 45 percent of members responded to the survey, with about one in two medical professionals reporting feeling burnt out. But in the Southern district, more than 60 percent responded and more than 60 percent reported burnout.

"There is also a lot of frustration expressed to us by members at Southern about a combination of the physical workspaces are cramped and difficult, there's extra demand that has arisen out of Covid - although I would say that's just the icing on top, Covid is by no means the cause of these things - and some frustrations that they don't feel heard by management," Dalton said.

The article also contained a selection of responses to the survey, which showed medical professionals feared patients were also paying the price.

"I just wish my job was containable within the hours I am given to do it. That is probably the single biggest stressor - the constant feeling that I have forgotten something really important and the to-do list is never completely done, and that I might not be providing the best care to the patients because I have too many things to do," one said.

"I love my work, I love dealing with the patients. I wish I had more time to do my job properly. But I and my colleagues are frustrated by the unrealistic expectations of the management teams of our capability within the constraints of time and budgets," another said.

Dalton said while burnout rates had not increased significantly nationally, there had also been no improvement since 2015 which was cause for concern.

"The disappointing thing for us is that, if anything, rates of burnout have just slightly crept up, except in one particular DHB where it's really leapt up. Any efforts employers have been making over the last five years to tackle burnout - often under the guise of well-being - have not been working at all for our workforce.

"So there's just a steady accumulation of fatigue and burnout."

She said more funding was needed for the health sector, but there also had to be a change in attitude and the normalisation of long working hours had to shift.

Other measures, such as improving IT systems, would allow senior medical professionals to better use their time, she said.

SDHB chief executive Chris Fleming declined to be interviewed until he had seen the full report, which the association said would be released to members next month.

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