Health of doctors impacts upon patients' wellbeing

PRESS RELEASE

For immediate release: Monday, 17 June 2013

Protect your patients’ wellbeing by looking after your own health, UK-wide medical defence organisation MDDUS urges doctors.

MDDUS has dealt with a growing number of cases involving doctors who have been subject to complaints or fitness to practise proceedings relating to mistakes or actions as a result of their health problems.

According to MDDUS medical adviser Dr Barry Parker, doctors who suffer from burnout should seek help before patient safety is compromised. “While doctors are caring for patients, they can sometimes neglect to care for themselves,” says Dr Parker.

“A doctor’s job has never been more demanding, with a rise in the volume and complexity of workload. Doctors are renowned for being resilient – it goes with the territory – but they are only human and may reach a breaking point without seeking any help.

“Dealing with stress and being overworked may be acknowledged as a way of life for doctors, but there is a tipping point. From our experience at MDDUS, seeking help early can make all the difference for those who face these problems.

“However, they may be reluctant to do so, with avoidance and denial being common initial responses. Perhaps as a result, doctors may present late and in crisis.

“MDDUS has received calls from doctors worried that they are not fit to carry out clinical duties because of stress. Indeed, many of them involve doctors concerned about their own health and how their performance is affected by stress or burnout.

“We have also encountered cases where doctors have turned to alcohol to relieve anxiety or stress which can have long-term implications for the doctor.” Burnout comes in many guises – from anxiety, irritability and fatigue to depression, emotional exhaustion and withdrawal.

“Burnout can affect a doctor’s judgment, concentration and productivity. All of which can lead to mistakes in dealing with patient care,” adds Dr Parker.

“Some very dedicated doctors may feel an ethical duty to sacrifice their own health for the good of their patients and might argue that at least they are only hurting themselves. However, ill health can lead to poor performance which in turn may jeopardise patient safety.

“Speaking to a colleague or their own GP about these issues should not be seen as a sign of weakness. More and more doctors are suffering from stress or health problems as workload increases. Doctors who are concerned about a colleague’s wellbeing are advised to be sensitive and encourage them to seek help.

“Some of the cases we see involve doctors seeking advice on how to deal with concerns about a colleague. This underlines the point that some doctors find it difficult to face up to their own health problems.”

GMC guidance Good Medical Practice states that: “If you know or suspect that you have a serious condition that you could pass on to patients, or if your judgment or performance could be affected by a condition or its treatment, you must consult a suitably qualified colleague. You must follow their advice about any changes to your practice they consider necessary. You must not rely on your own assessment of the risk to patients.”

The GMC also has an advice website called Your Health Matters which encourages doctors who may be concerned about their health to pay attention to warning signs of illness and take them seriously.

“The GMC explains that, while it aims to protect patients, it is also there to support healthcare professionals,” adds Dr Parker. “It encourages doctors to inform the regulator if they have a health condition or a drug problem that may put patients at risk.

“However, MDDUS advise doctors to contact their medical defence organisation before considering making contact with the GMC in regards to their health. Defence organisations are experienced in assisting doctors with health problems that impact upon their fitness to practise.

“They say doctors make bad patients, but MDDUS advises doctors to turn to their own GP for help and support. Doctors may also find it helpful to discuss their concerns with a colleague, family or friends.”

Ends

For further information contact Richard Hendry on 0845 270 2034 or 07976 272266, or email rihendry@mddus.com.

Note to editors

MDDUS (The Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland) is a medical and dental defence organisation providing access to professional indemnity and expert medico- and dento-legal advice for doctors, dentists and other healthcare professionals throughout the UK. For further information on MDDUS go to www.mddus.com.