Are UK Doctors Lacking Sleep?
A survey that was recently conducted and the findings of which were released by the British Medical Association (BMA), showed that patient safety is being put at risk on a regular basis in hospitals and other health care facilities. This occurs due to a lack of rest time for hospital consultants after they had been on call on busy night shifts.
Longer Working Hours than Before
The BMA’s survey consisted of 847 consultants from areas in England and Norther Ireland, and it noted that as much as three quarters of them did not have access to any form of rest time after they had spent a full night on call when their sleep had been interrupted. One out of every ten of the consultants went on to state that a full night’s rest was a rare occurrence after working a full night shift. Most of the consultants who had been interviewed further reported that they were on an on-call roster – with between half and two thirds of them being called in to attend hospital during the week and over weekends.
Compromising Patient Safety Standards
With average call out times ranging between three and six hours, the lack of sufficient rest time was not only shown to severely compromise the patient safety levels in the respective hospitals; the consultants in question also ran the risk of being severely fatigued, which could result in burnout occurring. During week days 74% of anesthetists and 71% of surgeons said that they were most likely to be called into hospital, with respective call out times ranging between three and four hours at a time.
Breaking Regular Sleep Patterns
Almost 50% of the consultants who were interviewed mentioned that their sleep had been disturbed at least once a week while being on call from Monday through to Friday. Over weekends, consultants said that they averaged five calls into hospital, with one third of them having to break their normal sleep patterns when doing so. One fifth of the respondents mentioned that they had experienced disturbed sleep on both weekend nights when they were on call.
Fatigue and Burnout a Huge Concern
While at the BMA’s annual representative meeting, Dr. Paul Flynn, chair of the BMA consultant committee said, “Our concerns about consultants’ fatigue and burnout are well-founded. Sleep deprivation can impair judgement and decision making, skills that are vital for doctors. Studies have shown it can have similar effects to drinking. We would never allow a consultant under the influence of alcohol to treat patients, but continue to turn a blind eye to doctors who are sleep deprived. This has the potential to lead to the same problems that consultants experienced as junior doctors – no one wants to see a return to the dark days of doctors working dangerously long hours.”
Dr. Flynn further noted, “The consultant contract must continue to have robust protections against the acute fatigue that poses risks to patients and the chronic fatigue that risks burnout for consultants.” Therefore, it is essential to ensure that doctors and nurses are able to enjoy uninterrupted sleep on a regular basis.