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How Burnout Is Damaging Emergency Medical Care

14th October 2013

Burnout manifests in both physical and emotional forms, but is overwhelmingly caused by stress in the workplace and persistent fatigue. The College of Emergency Medicine released the results of a survey this week that fielded the responses of more than 1,000 emergency health consultants in the UK. It found that six in every 10 emergency workers felt their jobs were ‘unsustainable’.

94 per cent of emergency workers surveyed admitted to working above and beyond what’s expected. What’s more, over half revealed that this was a regular event. The results point to doctors and nurses in emergency care suffering from burnout, stress and poor health due to excessive working hours and pressure on the job. Demand, as well as the increasing complexity of emergency care, were cited as key reasons for burnout.

Staff shortages have the flow-on effect of forcing staff who are available to work longer to compensate for the missing support. The overriding concern is that medical practitioners who continue to work while fighting the effects of burnout and related fatigue are more likely to put patients at risk through negligent care, as well as missed opportunities to intervene in the case of serious ill health.

In other industries, periods of overwork and stress do occur. The same applies in medicine, however it’s only when things go wrong that authorities appear to intervene. As too many Fletchers clients will attest, the time when things go wrong is far too late.

A bailout fund worth œ500 million aims to give hospitals suffering from issues, such as understaffing and burnout, special assistance for the next two winters. Easing undue strain on emergency services over busy times by patients presenting only in times of genuine emergency can play a part, but the real change will come through better valuing health practitioners and acknowledging when enough is enough.

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