2 min read

Doctors in training reportedly exposed to psychosocial risk

ABC News ran an article this month that reported on the endemic issue of overworked young doctors in what could now be considered a significant breach of the new psychosocial hazard laws.

As outlined in last week’s bulletin, one of the key areas that persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) need to focus on is the risk of psychosocial harm from role overload. The situation regarding young doctors in hospital as detailed by ABC News is a clear example of that risk.

ABC News reports that, “In the latest national survey of Australia's doctors in training, more than half of the 22,000 doctors surveyed described their workload as ‘heavy’ or ‘very heavy’. Two-thirds reported they worked more than 40 hours on average per week, including one in 10 who worked more than 60 hours on average per week.

“Melbourne-based junior doctor Lucy Crook … said working unrostered overtime was a routine part of the job for many young doctors. Heavy workloads in public hospitals meant it was challenging for junior doctors to get their clinical and administrative work done within rostered hours.”

Psychosocial Code of Practice

Importantly, the case study of an emergency ward is an example used by SafeWork NSW in its Code of Practice for psychosocial hazards.

In the Code, it is noted that “Role overload … [is a risk where there are] not enough workers to manage patient behaviours, particularly when patient acuity is high and there is a poor skills mix with more inexperienced workers on the roster. Increased demands from new systems of work compete with existing workloads. The organisation managed role overload … by rostering adequate worker numbers to take into account new systems of work, patient acuity, staff skills mix …”

Underlying causes need to be addressed

According to ABC News, lawyers representing overworked doctors say that, “Over many years, the expectation that young staff ‘simply do the work and don't complain’ has led to poor rostering, understaffing and excessive workloads. It is an accepted practice that junior doctors come in early to prepare for ward rounds or stay back to complete discharge summaries. Over time, health authorities have not just ignored these problems, but in many ways, they have endorsed the very structures — by way of budgeting, by way of funding — which have reinforced these behaviours.”

Although these claims are disputed by the health services employing young doctors, the situation highlights one of the key areas of focus that the new psychosocial hazard codes of practice and regulations are targeting. All PCBUs should take note of the risks that arise from role overload and ensure that they develop systems and processes to manage that risk.

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