A lack of sleep is impairing the ability of one doctor in four in the NHS to do their job properly, a survey has said.
The poll of more than 500 doctors across the UK carried out in the past month by the Medical Defence Union concluded there had been almost 40 near misses as a direct result of exhaustion, with patients actually sustaining harm in at least seven cases.
The survey findings, published in The Guardian newspaper, found six in 10 doctors (59%) reported their sleep patterns had worsened during the pandemic.
More than a quarter (26%) admitted being so tired their ability to treat patients was “impaired”. Of these, one in six (18%) said a patient had been harmed or a near miss had occurred as a result.
One described how a patient collapsed after being prescribed penicillin, something they had previously told the same doctor they were allergic to.
The doctor blamed a “perfect storm” of “chronic fatigue” and “an unmanageable workload”. The situation was being compounded by widespread staff shortages because of the spread of the omicron variant of Covid-19, the survey also concluded.
Side-effects reported by doctors due to sleep deprivation included poor concentration (64%), decision-making difficulties (40%), mood swings (37%), and mental health problems (30%).
Sleep and the pandemic
Nearly one in 10 (9%) of the medics polled said they felt sleep deprived at work on a daily basis. A further 28% reported feeling sleep deprived every week. More than one in six (17%) said sleep deprivation was affecting their ability to care for patients.
Nearly all (92%) of the medics surveyed said they were working more additional hours than they were rostered or contracted to do, with more than half (52%) doing between five and 20 extra hours a week on average. Nearly one in three (29%) admitted that they got no breaks during a working day.
MDU chief executive Dr Matthew Lee told The Guardian: “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.”
Last week, a survey of more than 1,200 doctors by the Royal College of Physicians concluded more than two-thirds of doctors have felt overwhelmed at least once while at work in the past three weeks.
More than a quarter (27.5%) had felt overwhelmed once or twice during this period, and more than a fifth (21.5%) once or twice a week. A similar percentage (20.5%) said they had felt overwhelmed almost every day.