Sleep-deprived consultants pose risk

SEVEN in ten consultants never have rest time after a busy night on call, according to figures published by the BMA.

A survey of 847 consultants in England and Wales found that 71 per cent never have access to rest time following a night spent on call when their sleep had been disturbed, and a further 10 per cent said that such rest was rare.

Almost nine in 10 consultants (88 per cent) reported being on an on-call rota, with just under half being called to attend hospital during the week, rising to two-thirds at weekends. Anaesthetists and surgeons were most likely to be called to attend hospital. With average call-out times being three hours during the week and six hours at weekends, the BMA warns that not having proper rest time compromises patient safety and puts consultants at risk of fatigue and burnout.

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. 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.

"With workloads rising and moves to deliver more services out of hours, the government must make safe working a priority."