Physician burnout brings call for urgent action on workforce: RACP

By Michael Woodhead

4 Nov 2021

Prof Andrew Wilson

Specialist physicians are calling on the federal government to release its healthcare workforce modelling and increase hospital resources after a survey showed that 87% of hospital specialists are concerned about burnout.

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians surveyed its members across Australia between September and October 2021 and responses from 812 physicians have revealed that many are already fearing what ongoing high rates of hospitalisations for COVID-19 will do to the system that was already stretched before the pandemic.

The feedback from physicians includes:

  • 87% say they are concerned about staff burnout
  • 76% say they are concerned about an increase in COVID-19 hospital admissions
  • 82% say they are concerned about reduced capacity to address non-COVID-19 hospital admissions
  • 81% say they are concerned about delays in screening leading to exacerbations of other medical conditions
  • 62% say they have been concerned about their risk of infection and 1 in 5 say they have been concerned about the risk of their own death.

RACP President and respiratory physician Professor John Wilson said members were overwhelmingly telling the College that the healthcare system is under pressure and has been for some time – and frontline doctors and healthcare workers are feeling the stretch.

“Too many doctors are suffering from sheer burnout and exhaustion, and continued COVID- 19 hospitalisations are putting an additional burden on the hospital system that needs to be addressed,” he said.

“We understand that the Federal Department of Health has undertaken modelling to guide resource planning for hospitals. Our hospitals are clearly facing a crisis, and so we call on the Government to urgently release this modelling.

“We’re also calling on the Federal Government to heed the calls of other organisations and provide the additional resourcing required so that our healthcare system can operate as effectively as possible to get us through this next phase of the pandemic and beyond.”

Professor Wilson said that dealing with COVID-19 had reduced the hospital system’s capacity to manage the normal range of non-COVID-19 hospital admissions. This, combined with delayed screening which may exacerbate other medical conditions, would impact on the health of our community for some time and additional funding would be needed.

“One third of respondents have told us that their employer has not provided sufficient support during the pandemic as they struggle to cope with the increased risk of infection and increased workload and stress,” he said.

Medical leadership was urgently needed to re-allocate physician resources within major hospitals, he added.

“Without additional resources, the health system cannot manage the normal level of activity, let alone COVID-19 hospitalisations without there being significant negative effects across the system.

“Our survey shows this has already happened. We cannot continue like this, without a major boost to resourcing in COVID-19 hospitals.”

“We need to see all workplaces stepping up and providing their workers with the resource they need to alleviate these burnout issues. This includes focussed, wellbeing support, more frontline staff to share the load and better systems management” Professor Wilson said.

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