Bundaberg Hospital.
Bundaberg Hospital.

Fatigue fears: 39% of Bundy’s junior docs under pressure

RESULTS from a recent survey of Queensland public hospitals showed more than a third of trainee doctors in Bundaberg fear they are at risk of making clinical errors due to fatigue and working long hours.

Surveying 21 junior doctors from Bundaberg, as well as 730 interns, house officers and first-year doctors based statewide, the 2020 Resident Hospital Health Check compares employment conditions at public hospitals across Queensland.

The most recent AMA Queensland Public Hospital report card revealed 39% of trainee doctors in Bundaberg were concerned about the risk of making mistakes due to exhaustion and one third had not received full payment for hours worked in overtime.

"Disturbingly, 25% of junior Bundaberg doctors were advised not to claim unrostered overtime by an administrative officer or senior medical officer, and 42% felt claiming would negatively affect their assessment," AMA Queensland Council of Doctors in Training chair Dr Maddison Taylor said.

"This year's survey also revealed a rise in junior doctors feeling unsafe at work, from 22% in 2019 to 27% in 2020, reflecting the impact of COVID-19 in our hospitals.

"As evidenced in the survey, doctors in training are working exceedingly long hours and in some cases without adequate senior support (which) predisposes us to burnout and increases the rates of anxiety and depression, so it's important not only to fix the systemic issues at play in our hospitals but also to provide practical support and advice in those early years."

WBHHS acting executive director of medical services Scott Kitchener said the organisation welcomed feedback from the AMAQ and would take it on board alongside the direct feedback received from junior doctors.

"WBHHS works alongside our junior doctors to proactively improve our workplace culture and environment, as well as providing opportunities for them to progress in their careers," Mr Kitchener said.

"We encourage any staff member, no matter their position, to speak to their line manager or relevant branch if they have feedback - both positive and negative - about their workplace."

Mr Kitchener said WBHHS was very proud of the high retention rates of junior doctors and was committed to providing professional development and training to further progress their careers.

"Each year, the vast majority of interns at Bundaberg Hospital continue on with us for their second year and, years later, many are still with WBHHS in more senior roles," he said.

"In fact, seven former 2019 interns have been appointed as Principal House Officers at Bundaberg Hospital starting in 2021.

"In addition, several of our positions at rural facilities are filled by former Bundaberg Hospital interns who are completing or have completed the Queensland Rural Generalist Pathway while being supported by WBHHS."

Results from the survey also indicated rates of bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment were high in Queensland's public hospitals, but trainee doctors scored Bundaberg Hospital high in this category with 100% of reported incidents listed as being appropriately addressed.

"While the AMAQ survey identifies areas where we can improve as a health service, the survey suggests generally good workplace culture, which we're committed to enhancing further through our recently launched organisational values," Mr Kitchener said.

"This indicates we're taking the right action when complaints are made and are ensuring the alleged behaviour does not continue.

"We will continue to prioritise areas including staff engagement, organisational leadership, antidiscrimination, fairness, learning and development, and job empowerment."

But 92% of those surveyed in Bundaberg said they were concerned to report an incident as there could be negative consequences.

Dr Taylor said Queensland hospitals needed to be supportive and safe places that allowed doctors to provide the best possible patient care and thrive in their careers.

AMA Queensland president Professor Chris Perry said the laws require health practitioners to report fellow clinicians if they believe they have depression, anxiety or mental illness that could place the public at risk.

He said this law actively discourages doctors and employees from seeking medical treatment.

"The result is usually revoking of the doctor's medical licence, even though their illness may be extremely treatable," he said.

"Practitioners should have equal rights to access confidential high-quality medical treatment for mental health issues without feeling threatened that their medical licence will be revoked.

"Every year in Queensland, at least four doctors take their own lives - these deaths could be prevented if doctors were able to seek treatment without fear of losing their ability to practice medicine."

Calling on the next State Government, AMA Queensland has asked for the mandatory laws to be reviewed and requested a $1.67 million commitment to help fund a Wellness at Work program.

If funding is acquired, the program will consist of resilience training and support for junior doctors during their first five years of training.

The request comes after $266,000 was provided under the Medical Practitioner Workforce Plan for Queensland (MPWP4Q) in the last financial year, funding the delivery of the Wellbeing at Work program to all interns across the state.

A further $313,000 was also committed to junior doctor wellness initiatives under this plan this financial year.

Incumbent State Member for Bundaberg David Batt said with long waiting lists in Queensland hospitals, he understood health care workers were stressed.

"I understand the pressure medical staff are under, and as hospitals return to normal routines after COVID-19 lockdowns, there will be a lot of catching up to do," Mr Batt said.

"That's why the LNP has promised a $1.3 billion investment to recruit nearly 4500 more nurses, doctors, paramedics and allied health workers.

"An LNP Government will also spend $10 million to get more than 1400 Wide Bay patients off the waiting list so they can have the life-changing surgery they need."

The Greens candidate for Bundaberg Claire Ogden said by raising royalties for mining companies, the state could create a world-class health care system that puts health workers and patients ahead of corporate profits.

"Even before the coronavirus, our health system has suffered from years of underfunding, cuts and an ideological obsession with putting corporate profits over crucial public services," Ms Ogden said.

"To take the pressure off our hardworking healthcare workers and emergency departments, we will fully fund our health system and create more than 150 positions for doctors and nurses as well as build an additional 13 community health clinics for the region.

"We need to cut politicians' pay and raise the wages of frontline workers and strengthen our workplace laws to prevent health workers being overworked or subjected to harassment, bullying or discrimination."

Bundaberg candidate from the Legalise Cannabis party Ian Zunker said more funding for the health industry was required.

"Health should be an open checkbook - no questions about how are we going to pay to improve health, just bloody well do it," Mr Zunker said.

"Health is the base root of every community, and the healthier people are, the more they will prosper over people who are sick and struggling.

"Using cannabis, as the therapeutic medicine that it is, will free up money in an already stretched system, the chronic pain of many Queenslanders would be managed and opioid abuse causing death would drop dramatically."

Labor candidate for Bundaberg Tom Smith declined to comment, but referred to Deputy Premier and Health Minister Steven Miles' response to the survey results.

"We already invest in a joint program with the AMAQ to support our clinicians with their challenges at work," Dr Miles said.

"Being a doctor is a very important job, a highly valued job but it can be a very stressful job, so we have a range of programs to support our staff.

"It's always concerning to hear those kinds of concerns but we are constantly trying to work with our medical workforce to ensure they don't do too longer shifts, that they do manage their fatigue and their stress levels and we work with senior clinicians to make sure that they make it clear that it's OK to take breaks, not work too long and say if (you're feeling) fatigued."

The NewsMail also contacted Bundaberg candidates Shane Smeltz from the Palmer United Party and Stewart Jones from One Nation to provide a comment, but no response was received.

For the full survey results, click here.

If you or someone you know is struggling, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36.

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