Tired doctors are like drink-drivers
AMA's Doctors in Training Committee co-chair Dr Cassandra Host. Picture: John Mokrzycki/The West Australian

More than half the doctors in Australian public hospitals are working dangerously long hours, including 43-hour shifts, a survey shows.

The Australian Medical Association said many doctors were doing shifts that impaired their performance as much as drink-driving.

The AMA audit, which recorded the hours of almost 1500 doctors over a week in August, found one in five doctors did not have a day off.

The longest unbroken shift was 43 hours - up from the 39-hour high reported at the last audit in 2006 - and the maximum hours worked in the week was 120.

Overall, 53 per cent of doctors worked hours that put them at high or significant risk, on average working 60 to 78 hours a week.

The worst-affected were surgeons, with 77 per cent working risky hours.

AMA vice-president Geoff Dobb, a Perth intensive care specialist, said while there had been improvements since the 2006 audit, in some cases the hours worked by doctors had worsened.

Doctor fatigue and stress levels ultimately affected the quality of care and patient safety.

"The performance impairment of a person after 17 hours of sustained wakefulness has been shown to be equivalent to that of a blood-alcohol concentration greater than 0.05," he said.

Perth hospital doctor Cassandra Host, who co-chairs the AMA's Doctors in Training Committee, said junior doctors often bore the brunt of unsafe hours and became exhausted juggling work, study and exams.She was aware of doctors on-call all weekend who barely slept.

"Those shifts are so busy that doctors get very little sleep and that's still happening now," she said. "There's no question that when you're fresh you're a better doctor and provide better care to your patients."

Director-general of health Kim Snowball said the Health Department was focusing effort on regularising doctors' hours.

DID YOU KNOW? 43 The number of hours a doctor had to work in one unbroken shift

The West Australian

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