Patients Should Be Entitled To Know How Tired Their Doctor Is


“Overworked and tired Doctors are posing an alarming threat to patient safety” says Specialist Clinical Negligence Lawyer at Simpson Millar.

In 2013 The Telegraph reported an “alarming” threat to patient safety posed by the “unmanageable workload” that hospital Doctors were having to deal with according to a report published at the time by the Royal College of Physicians.  96% of medical Registrars who responded to the College’s survey described their workloads as either “heavy” (59%) or “unmanageable” (37%).  In April 2014 The Mail reported that overworked Doctors were “forced to look after up to 70 elderly patients during single shifts and are missing vital signs of illness”.  The Mail report said overworked Doctors were finding it “impossible” to provide adequate care.  In May 2015 the same paper reported how GP’s were warning they are so overworked that standards of care are “dangerous” as they are prone to missing serious illness.

Doctors go to War with Health Secretary

The Independent recently reported how Doctors have declared war on Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt over a 7 day NHS work week.  88% of Cardiologists are already working at weekends and The Independent quoted one Consultant who spoke of “intensive working patterns affecting health and life outside work”.

Threat to Patient Safety

Doctors posing a threat to patient safety is not a problem limited to the UK.  Data from a study by salaried Doctors in Queensland in 1999 found that overworked Doctors were worried they were killing patients. Instances of 100 hour weeks were said to be common and it was not unusual for Doctors to work up to 40 hours continuously.  Some Doctors were worried that they were working so hard their exhaustion was causing them to make errors and lose patients.  News reports at the time said Doctors had admitted to many instances of patients being seriously injured or killed due to Doctors exhaustion.  This should surprise no-one.  We can all make mistakes when we are tired and exhausted by overwork and why should Doctors be any different?  They are human just like the rest of us but the problem is that when a Doctor makes a mistake it can result in serious injury or death to a patient.

From Bad to Worse

The Government is doing nothing to improve this situation and is even making matters worse. The Daily Mail recently reported how Doctors have been told to draw up emergency plans to slash their budgets.  These include cutting staffing levels.  The bosses of all hospitals have been sent a letter by NHS Watchdogs warning them that their day to day running is “simply unaffordable”.  It tells them to leave “no stone unturned” in identifying ways to ensure the “money we have goes as far as possible”.  The letters were sent out by Monitor, which is the Watchdog for Foundation Trust hospitals and the NHS Trust Development Authority.  Sent to the Chief Executives of Foundation Trust Hospitals from Monitor’s Chief Executive, Dr David Bennett, the letter reads “As you know, the NHS is facing an almost unprecedented financial crisis this year.  Current plans are quite simply unaffordable”.

With Doctors already working exhausting hours the situation is clearly going from bad to worse. The Independent recently reported how Jeremy Hunt has “pedalled myths” about medics workloads and demoralised the NHS workforce over plans for more 7 day services, the leader of the countries Doctors claimed, as a survey revealed 9 out of 10 Consultants are already on evening and weekend rotas.  Mark Porter, the Chairman of the Doctors Union the British Medical Association (BMA) was quoted as saying the profession was “furious” with the Health Secretary, who told it last month to “get real” over the need for a “proper 7 days service in hospitals”.  Mr Hunt’s comments have led to a backlash among Doctors and a petition to Parliament proposing a vote of no confidence in the Health Secretary has attracted more than 200,000 signatures. Doctors across the country have been protesting against Mr Hunt by posting photographs of themselves at work on Twitter.

A Disaster Waiting to Happen

The list of injuries caused to patients by hospital blunders is endless. Surgical equipment left inside a patient after an operation, organs mistakenly removed and arteries severed. The usual defence run by hospital trusts is that the doctor was well trained and very familiar with the procedure undertaken so it was just bad luck. The “bad luck” for the patient is likely to be that he or she was treated by a doctor exhausted by overwork. Death and injury caused to NHS patients because of overworked Doctors has become so costly that the Government has decided to fight back, not by improving working conditions for Doctors or helping victims of medical blunders when disaster strikes, but by forcing Doctors to work ever increasing hours and then implementing policy to prevent victims of medical blunders from making claims when disaster strikes!

I believe we have now reached a point where NHS patients should be entitled to know how many hours the Doctor treating them has been working and exactly how tired he or she actually is. If I was a patient I would want to know the answer to this question, particularly before undergoing any type of invasive treatment or surgery!

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