Rural CQ doctors at risk of burnout through pandemic

RURAL doctors are being pushed to their limits throughout the pandemic, with industry leaders pleading for exemptions to avoid burnout.

Health workers all over the world are facing an increased influx of patients since the onset of coronavirus.

Australia’s rural health workers are also clocking up far more hours than usual with reduced staff numbers due to restrictions.

Rural Doctors Association of Australia president Dr John Hall said the workforce shortage could not go on long-term.

“For months now these doctors and nurses have been pulling extra shifts and been on-call at nights and weekends over long periods of time,” Dr Hall said.

“Most rural doctors have just increased their workload, or continued on throughout without taking a break; however these demands are starting to take a toll.”

Dr Ewen McPhee of the Emerald Medical Group said some local doctors had been working seven days a week since March.

Dr Ewen McPhee.
Dr Ewen McPhee.

“There is a limited number of rural doctors in Central Queensland and we are working across general practice and hospitals with limited access to locum relief,” he said.

“Some rural doctors have been working seven days a week since March without a break.”

Emerald doctors and nurses have also been working hard to keep the GP led respiratory clinic open for testing in the Central Highlands.

“The doctors and nurses have had to spend many hours in uncomfortable PPE in less than ideal circumstances,” Dr McPhee said.

“While most people have been happy that we are providing access to care, we see a lot of stressed and upset people.

“It is important that they don’t ‘shoot the messenger’ as we aren’t responsible for the pandemic or the needed restrictions and as such do not deserve the aggression.”

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Dr McPhee said fatigue was a serious risk as the crisis continued, especially in rural communities.

“Fatigue and lack of time to recharge are a significant risk as we move through the coronavirus crisis, and the smaller the workforce the greater the risk that burnout happens,” he said.

“Fatigue leads to poorer decision making, greater risk of mistakes and errors and less than optimal care.

“It is critical that rural communities respect their health professionals privacy and to acknowledge that we are all in this together.”

Kirstyn Goni, Tracy O'Flanagan and Dr Ewen McPhee at the rural respiratory clinic at Emerald.
Kirstyn Goni, Tracy O'Flanagan and Dr Ewen McPhee at the rural respiratory clinic at Emerald.

Many Central Queensland doctors have also missed many conferences that usually provided opportunities to learn and further develop their skills.

Dr Hall said it was important for all states to allow cross-border travel for medical practitioners to allow health workers to share the workload.

“If these issues aren’t resolved, doctors and nurses are going to burn out, services are going to be decreased and we are going to see an increase in non-COVID deaths due to decreased access to care.

“All states must urgently put in place medical exemptions for cross-border travel or more lives will be lost as a result of COVID – just not to the disease itself.”


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