TORONTO – The director of a heart center in Toronto calls for immediate support for stressed doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers, describing their risk of burnout as “a public health crisis”.
Dr Barry Rubin, president and medical director of the Peter Munk Cardiac Center at the University Health Network, says surveys conducted at a cardiovascular center before the pandemic found that 78% of nurses, 65% of physicians and 73% of other health workers health staff described feelings of burnout.
The surveys were conducted between November 27, 2018 and January 31, 2019 and do not take into account the impact COVID-19 may have had on staff since then.
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But UHN’s chief psychiatrist said there was no doubt the pandemic had exacerbated feelings of fatigue, stress and depression among many healthcare workers.
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“COVID has really exacerbated a problem that already existed,” Dr. Susan Abbey said of the results published Tuesday in the Canadian Medical Association’s Open Journal.
“Almost everyone struggles on the front lines.”
The UHN study interviewed 414 doctors, nurses and auxiliary staff, including physiotherapists, respiratory and occupational therapists, social workers and speech language pathologists.
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Burnout can involve job dissatisfaction, staff turnover, decreased quality of life, and suicidal thoughts.
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It also affects care, Rubin said.
“It is associated with an increased incidence of medical errors, serious safety events, hospital readmission, worse patient outcomes, and in some situations even increased patient mortality,” said Rubin said Tuesday in a statement.
“Clinician burnout is a public health crisis that we must address now.”
The warnings come as new data suggests Ontario’s health care system will be overwhelmed unless a winter outbreak of infections is brought under control.
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Provincial modeling suggests there could be around 500 COVID-19 patients in intensive care by mid-January, as the number of free beds declines, and deaths could double to 100 per day by the time the end of February under current restrictions.
This will put additional pressure on healthcare workers in the coming weeks, officials have warned.
Dr Dominique Desy, from the Association of General Practitioners of the Yamaska region, called on the general public to adhere to public health rules, acknowledging that many people are emotionally exhausted by continuous calls for vigilance.
“They have had enough. And it’s been too long, and they want to live the life they want… I understand that, we understand that, ”Desy said.
“But the narrow angle of this pandemic is going to be at the end (when hospitals may have to) choose who stays on the ventilator or not. And no one wants to get there.
© 2021 The Canadian Press