It is still possible for a doctor to work a three-day shift without any breaks, an AMA audit of working conditions for doctors working in Australian public hospitals has revealed.
One in two doctors (53%) were found to be working unsafe hours, with shifts of 72 hours, 59 hours, 58 hours and 53 hours also reported, the audit found.
AMA President Dr Michael Gannon said it was disappointing that work and rostering practices in some hospitals were still contributing to doctor fatigue and stress. “[These] ultimately affect patient safety and quality of care and the health of the doctor,” he said.
The doctors who were mostly likely to at risk of working while fatigued were employed in intensive care, surgery, and obstetrics and gynaecology, the audit found. Around 22% of general practitioners were also at risk of fatigue.
The audit, the fourth since 2001, showed an improvement on 2001 when 78% of those surveyed reported working high-risk hours. But the AMA said it was worrying that there had been no subsequent improvement in conditions since 2011.
“Reducing fatigue-related risks does not necessarily mean doctors have to work fewer hours, just better-structured and safer ones,” Dr Gannon said. “It could be a case of smarter rostering practices, improved staffing levels and better access to appropriate rest and leave provisions.”
The audit was conducted over one week in November last year. Around 700 doctors kept an online diary of their hours of work, on-call hours, non-work hours, and sleep time.