AMA (NSW)’s 2021 Hospital Health Check survey reveals a tired workforce that is burnt out from the COVID surge in workload.
“The pandemic has created a unique set of circumstances that has put further pressure on an already stretched workforce,” said Dr Sanjay Hettige, AMA (NSW) Doctors-in-Training Committee Co-Chair.
In 2021, 60% of respondents worked more than five hours of unrostered overtime in an average fortnight, compared to 49% the previous year.
“Respondents to this year’s survey repeatedly commented on the need for more staffing to improve rostering, alleviate the workload, and provide relief for overtired junior doctors,” Dr Hettige said.
Almost 40% of doctors revealed they have made a clinical-induced error caused by hours of work at their hospitals, while nearly half (47%) of respondents felt their personal safety was at risk from excessive hours worked.
“This tracks with our senior doctors – many of whom reported experiencing workplace stress, with the majority citing excessive workloads and a lack of resources.”
AMA (NSW) conducted a survey of its senior public hospital clinicians in May/June 2021. The Senior Doctor Pulse Check found 80% of senior doctors are experiencing workplace stress, with 62% indicating the number of medical staff is inadequate. The senior doctor survey also revealed that two-thirds (69%) do not feel valued by their hospital.
“The stress being experienced by senior doctors has a downstream effect on junior colleagues,” said Dr Jacqueline Ho, AMA (NSW)’s Doctors-in-Training Committee Co-Chair.
“We found a marked increase in bullying in 2021, which we attribute in part to the pressure being felt across the system. However, we can’t excuse bad behaviour and we will be seeking solutions to improve this measurement for 2022,” she added.
While the HHC reveals areas for improvement, overall wellbeing and morale measurements were positive. On average 63% of doctors-in-training feel valued by their hospital, while three-quarters (75%) would recommend their hospital.
In addition to the usual measurements around rostering, overtime, leave, and workplace behaviours, the HHC looked at what hospital facilities were offered at individual hospitals – with a view to finding out what additional amenities could be offered to improve the working lives of doctors-in-training.
“These aren’t big asks – often doctors-in-training are just looking for things like fresh food being made available after hours, access to Wi-Fi, a few more computers in the common rooms – sometimes it’s relatively small improvements that make the biggest difference to our lives,” Dr Ho said.
The annual AMA (NSW) Hospital Health Check (HHC) provides a barometer of improvements made by individual hospitals as well as stressors that continue to plague the system.
This is the fifth year AMA (NSW) has conducted the HHC and year on year there have been positive changes at hospitals and more broadly within Local Health Districts and across the health system.
The 2021 HHC survey was conducted from 23 July to 3 September. The timing is significant in that it coincided with the COVID-19 Delta outbreak in NSW. The State recorded 159 new cases on the day the HHC launched and hit 1,516 new cases when the survey closed six weeks later.
“The second wave of the pandemic has been difficult for all medical professionals, but particularly for doctors-in-training – many of whom have had training programs disrupted and faced career uncertainty. The full implications on our careers are yet to be realised,” Dr Hettige said.
“These stresses are in addition to the isolation that resulted from the necessary but grinding COVID measures, which prevented colleagues from socialising and de-briefing after work.”
According to Dr Ho, the fact that many of the hospitals received a similar grade to last year is remarkable.
“Since the HHC started in 2017, there has been a steady improvement in grades. In 2021, hospitals didn’t improve to the same extent that they had in previous years, but given the pressures the system faced during COVID, the fact that they have managed to hold their standing is positive,” she said.
Media contact: Andrea Cornish – 0419 402 955