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Increase in fitness to practise hearings due to burnout, say medical defence experts

Growing numbers of doctors have been subject to complaints or face fitness-to-practise hearings relating to mistakes happening as a result of health problems such as stress and burnout, according to a medical defence union.

MDDUS medical advisors said there had been anecdotal reports of rises in cases of doctors, and advise doctors struggling with health problems such as burnout to seek help to prevent potential mistakes or complaints.

Fitness to practise hearings and complaints due to doctors suffering health problems are not recorded in this way, so the MDDUS said they cannot quantify the rise.

Pulse revealed earlier this month that almost half of GPs are jeopardising their mental health and are at a very high risk of burning out following a major survey of 1,800 GPs.

Dr Barry Parker, medical adviser at MDDUS said stress may be an accepted part of a doctor’s role, but when it becomes a health problem it can lead to mistakes in patient care.

He said: ‘Dealing with stress and being overworked may be acknowledged as a way of life for doctors, but there is a tipping point. From our experience at MDDUS, seeking help early can make all the difference for those who face these problems.

‘However, they may be reluctant to do so, with avoidance and denial being common initial responses. Perhaps as a result, doctors may present late and in crisis.’

He added: ‘Burnout can affect a doctor’s judgment, concentration and productivity. All of which can lead to mistakes in dealing with patient care.’

‘Some very dedicated doctors may feel an ethical duty to sacrifice their own health for the good of their patients and might argue that at least they are only hurting themselves. However, ill health can lead to poor performance which in turn may jeopardise patient safety.’