Staff fatigue jeopardising patient safety

DOCTORS working long hours with excessive workloads resulting in lack of sleep is compromising patient safety, according to a new BMA briefing report.

The report warns that long and demanding shifts coupled with frequent changes in rotas and insufficient recovery periods mean thousands of doctors are at heightened risk of sleep deprivation and fatigue. This increases the risk of errors in patient care as well as occupational hazards such as needlestick injuries and road-traffic accidents.

Among the factors highlighted in the briefing are long working hours, high intensity workloads, increasing numbers of patient consultations leading to 'decision fatigue', unplanned and unpredictable interruptions associated with providing patient care advice while on call, and the disruptive effects of shift working on the natural sleep cycle.

The report concludes that Government and NHS employers must commit to a comprehensive framework for addressing workplace fatigue. Given the current unprecedented winter pressures being experienced by the health service the BMA believes that collective action to address the issue is needed more than ever.

BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul commented: "Given the enormous pressure that doctors and clinical staff working in the NHS are facing, more must be done to address the growing prevalence of fatigue and sleep deprivation owing to the increasing demands being placed on them.

"As well as having a long-term impact on physical and mental health of staff, fatigue and sleep deprivation is linked to higher instances of occupational accidents which places patients at risk.

"This paper highlights the need for reform of working patterns to safeguard doctors and clinical staff against the impact of excessive workloads and the increasing complexity and number of consultations resulting from wider pressures on the NHS such as staff shortages, funding constraints and growing patient demand.

"It is vital that we raise awareness of this issue and make sure that the appropriate support structures and facilities are in place to oversee improvements to long-term workforce planning that will ensure meaningful change for both staff and patients."

Source: BMA News