'Junior doctors are burned out and going hungry on shift'

Concerns have been raised over a lack of access to nutritious food for junior doctors while they are working.

‘Junior doctors are burned out and going hungry on shift’ iStock

A majority of junior doctors in Scotland say they have experienced burnout at work while a quarter are going hungry on shift, according to a new study.

Research by the Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland (MDDUS), indicates that 24% of those aged between 24 and 34 are either rarely or never able to buy nutritious meals or snacks during working hours.

As many as four in five (78%) told the union that they had felt burned out while working, with two-thirds (66%) reporting that they fear patient safety is at risk because they are working while they are tired and hungry.

Just under half (42%) have attributed the feeling of burn-out to having a lack of access to good food at work as a contributing factor.

The study was carried out by opinion pollster Survation, with 850 members questioned – 161 of whom were Scottish.

MMDUS represents 56,000 health professionals across the UK.

Chris Kenny, chief executive of MDDUS, has now written to the UK’s chief medical officers to outline the problem facing doctors.

“We know that consistent access to basics such as hot meals can substantially reduce workplace stress. Professor Sir Gregor Smith has said as much,” he said.

“That’s why I’ve written to Sir Gregor and his counterparts across the UK urging them to prioritise working with policymakers to make urgent and sustainable improvements to NHS staff experience.

“Doing this will remove a barrier to doctors providing consistent care and support to their patients.”

John Holden, chief medical officer at MDDUS, insisted that nutritious food and a safe place to rest are “basic requirements” to allow doctors to deliver safe patient care.

“Junior doctors already carry a heavy mental load due to working long hours in stressful environments, they shouldn’t have to worry about when they are going to have their next meal,” said Holden.

“Not eating a healthy balanced diet can lead to tiredness, impacting concentration levels and decision-making.

“Nutritious food and a safe place to rest are basic requirements which enable doctors to deliver safe patient care.

“Doctors work round the clock delivering a 24-hour healthcare service. The provision of food must reflect that and go beyond the 9-5 hours”.

Dr Bethany Sim, a 24-year-old hospital doctor practising in Lochaber, said: “There have been times when it’s busy that I have had to say that I simply cannot see another patient until I have had something to eat.

“And that’s been because I have been so hungry, I don’t feel I can look after them safely until I’ve eaten.”

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