Junior doctors ‘regularly sleep deprived’, research suggests

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Junior doctors are “regularly sleep deprived” with more than one in five of those working at Scotland’s hospitals claiming working patterns leave them feeling short of sleep on either a weekly or daily basis, according to a new survey.

Research by the General Medical Council (GMC) found that 21% of junior doctors in Scotland were affected in this way by their working hours.

Almost a quarter (2 4%) of junior doctors said their working patters left them feeling short of sleep on a monthly basis, while 18% said they felt this way at least once a week, while 3% reported it happened every day.

Just over a third (34%) said they were never left feeling short of sleep, while 22% said this happened to them less than once a month.

Meanwhile 491 junior doctors in Scotland say they work beyond their rostered hours every day – with a further 1,876 reporting this happens once a week.

The figures were revealed in the GMC’s annual survey of doctors in training, which found across the UK 22.4% of junior doctors feel short of sleep at work on a daily or weekly basis.

The report said a ” worrying number of doctors in training continue to raise concerns about heavy workloads and shortness of sleep while on duty”.

Dr Adam Collins, chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) Scotland’s junior doctors committee said: ” The findings of this survey show that junior doctors are regularly sleep deprived and that work is needed to mitigate the effects of this fatigue, as well as making improvements so that junior doctors are properly rested.”

Dr Collins warned: ” Fatigue can pose significant risks both to patients and to doctors themselves and it is essential that we do more to address this issue.

“Relatively simple changes would make a significant impact, improving both safety and the working lives of junior doctors.

“Scheduling shift patterns in a way that gives junior doctors a 46-hour recovery period when they are adjusting from night shifts to day shifts, ensuring there are rest facilities for doctors who are unsafe to drive, and access to hot food around the clock would make a big difference to junior doctors’ working lives.”

He added: ” At a time when the NHS in Scotland is stretched like never before, measures that genuinely improve the working lives of junior doctors are more important than ever.”

Scotland had the highest proportion of trainees who said they “never” worked beyond their rostered hours, or only did so less than once a month, with 1,524 junior doctors – 30.6% of those surveyed – saying this was the case.

But 3,461 junior doctors in Scotland said they worked longer than their scheduled hours on either a monthly, weekly or daily basis.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Miles Briggs said: ” Junior doctors go into the profession knowing what a demanding learning curve it can be.

“But this survey reveals things have gone too far, and the demands being placed on them are too severe.

“That’s not good for the health of doctors, and it won’t help patient safety in the long-run either.

“If we don’t look after the wellbeing of the medical profession now, there will be a stiff price to pay in future.”

Labour health spokesperson, Anas Sarwar stated: ” This survey has backed up what Scottish Labour has been saying for years – our NHS staff are over worked and under resourced.

“With only around a third of junior doctors feeling that they always got enough sleep, the impact of the SNP government’s decade of workforce planning failures are clear.

“We are now hearing from BMA Scotland that the NHS in Scotland is stretched like never before – that must be a cause of concern for patients and staff alike.”

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