Doctor 'frazzled' by long hours

By her 12th consecutive day working as a resident doctor at Southland Hospital, Dr Priya Shanmuganathan is "frazzled" and admits her work probably suffers.

Dr Shanmuganathan, the Resident Doctors' Association Southland delegate, said clawbacks sought by District Health Boards New Zealand would make the situation worse.

The union is locked in an industrial dispute with DHBNZ and the union has permission from its members to strike.

Dr Shanmuganathan said she sometimes lay awake at night questioning if she had made the right decision.

By the end of a 12-day week, the standard of her work, for the job she "loved", was not as high as when she was not tired.

She sometimes did the work of "two or three doctors".

The 25-year-old said the situation at Southland was exacerbated by the hospital's reliance on locums, and sometimes enough locums could not be hired to fill the gaps.

Morale among doctors was not high.

"I have to admit, [in] the atmosphere of doctors I work with, there is an element of fear. We're all a bit afraid of the future."

Dr Shanmuganathan said she grew up in Te Anau, her parents were now Invercargill-based, and she had known many of her patients for years.

She wanted to stay in New Zealand and not leave for higher pay overseas, but the proposed contract, which had "astonished" her and other doctors, might be the last straw.

Resident Doctors' Association national president Dr Curtis Walker said the proposal to remove restrictions on work hours effectively reduced the junior doctors to "shift workers", who could be called to work any time of the day or night.

The union was working hard to avoid a strike.

Southland traditionally had presented difficulties because of doctor shortages and reliance on locums, which pressured permanent staff.

Traditionally, there were fewer issues at Dunedin Hospital, and the old Otago District Health Board had a good reputation as an employer, compared with other health boards, Dr Walker said.

The union's Otago delegate was unavailable for comment.

DHBNZ spokeswoman Karen Roach rejected the union's claims.

DHBs valued the doctors and were not trying to reduce conditions.

"They are our future senior doctors and GPs, and we want to provide an environment in which they can learn and feel supported as their careers develop."

DHBNZ recognised the "unsociable and often long hours" doctors worked.

"However, we do need an agreement that provides more flexibility and we make no bones about the fact that that is high on our list of priorities.

"The status quo does not work well, and it really is not an option for this workforce."

Young doctors were a "workforce in training", and their employment conditions reflected it, she said.

eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

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