Pandemic fatigue revealed in survey

New Covid-19 guidance for GMC fitness-to-practise officials, advising them to take account of ‘sustained and extreme periods of fatigue’ among doctors, has been welcomed by the Medical Defence Union (MDU).

The GMC warned decision-makers to consider the ‘exceptional pressures’ on healthcare professionals due to the pandemic, including sustained fatigue.

Dr Caroline Fryar

MDU head of advisory services, Dr Caroline Fryar, said it was good the GMC was recognising the challenging circumstances doctors were enduring and their fatigue.

‘As memories inevitably begin to fade of the pressures healthcare professionals are under, those holding the profession to account – regulators like the GMC, the courts and, indeed, employers – must properly take the Covid-19 context into account.’

The council’s edict came a day after a startling MDU survey of 532 members, mostly consultants and GPs, found a quarter of doctors admitted being so tired that it impaired their ability to treat patients. 

In 40 cases, they admitted there was a near miss and there were seven cases of a patient coming to harm. Six-in-ten medics also reported worsening sleep patterns during the pandemic. Over a third said they felt sleep-deprived at least once a week.

MDU chief executive Dr Matthew Lee said: ‘Doctors and their healthcare colleagues are running on empty. Our members have come through a period of immense pressure caused by the pandemic and it is affecting all aspects of their life, including sleep patterns.’

Doctors reported side-effects due to sleep deprivation included poor concentration (64%), decision-making difficulties (40%), mood swings (37%) and mental health problems (30%). 

The most popular actions to combat tiredness were taking a short break (56%), drinking coffee/other caffeine drink (55%), snacking (37%), exercise (34%), mindfulness and breathing exercises (16%).