As many as 28% of doctors have reported they feel sleep deprived on a weekly basis, with nearly one-in-10 feeling so daily, a survey has suggested.
Conducted by the Medical Defence Union (MDU), the survey of more than 500 GPs, specialists and hospital doctors found that 60% believe their sleep pattern has got worse during the pandemic.
Nearly a fifth (19%) felt their sleep had worsened significantly, while a further 26% said tiredness had affected their ability to safely care for patients.
Of these, seven doctors (3%) said that they felt a patient was harmed as a result of tiredness, while 40 (15%) reported having ‘a near miss’.
But the most frequently reported side effects of tiredness included failing to take care of themselves (66%), poor concentration (64%) and trouble switching off from work (61%).
Despite this, two-fifths of GPs (40%) said they were not able to take any breaks during their workday.
Doctors told the MDU that the ongoing exhaustion and ‘significant’ impact on their sleep patterns had driven them to consider early retirement.
The union called on the Government and employers within the NHS to do more to ensure staff have adequate resources to deal with fatigue.
Dr Michael Farquhar, a consultant in paediatric sleep medicine at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, said: ‘Even before the pandemic hit, fatigue was a huge issue in an NHS which a committee of MPs acknowledged to have been short of staff. Dealing with the impact of Covid has exacerbated significant issues which already existed, with many healthcare professionals “running on fumes”.’
Last November, NHS England set a deadline of 2025 to ‘formalise an approach’ to ensure healthcare staff can access health and care services when needed.
Earlier in the year, the National Association of Primary Care (NAPC) warned that health and care staff wellbeing ‘must be of equal priority’ to that of patients.
NHS systems are currently facing significant staff shortages, with a recent survey finding more than one in five doctors have had to self-isolate in the past two weeks.