Patient safety fears as junior doctors battle burnout

Nine in 10 junior Victorian doctors are worried about making mistakes due to burnout and fatigue, sparking concerns for patient safety.

That's according to a union report claiming the state's less experienced medicos work under Australia's worst conditions and a high number are considering leaving the profession.

The Australian Salaried Medical Officers Federation Victoria surveyed more than 400 medical professionals and found 93 per cent of junior doctors experienced burnout in the past 12 months.

A similar number were worried they would make clinical errors as a result, which could impact patients.

Some 87 per cent reported working unpaid overtime in the past year. Many were concerned speaking out or claiming unpaid hours would hurt their career.

The union says the public health system features an "entrenched practice of wage theft" and an unacceptably high number of junior doctors are actively contemplating a career change.

"The Victorian health system is already straining to operate under significant staff shortages, putting the health and safety of Victorians at risk," the federation's report said.

"Victoria cannot afford to lose junior doctors from the system."

The results of the survey were extremely concerning, Australian Medical Association Victoria president Jill Tomlinson said.

"It has significant implications for patient safety," she told AAP.

"Burnout is a situation of major emotional, physical and mental exhaustion.

"When a doctor is working in those circumstances the risk of clinical error significantly increases."

Dr Tomlinson said there were significant staff shortages and it was believed Victoria's experience of the COVID-19 pandemic had contributed to tough conditions.

One unnamed doctor who left Victoria was quoted in the report as saying they felt "devalued" when trying to claim overtime as their timesheets were amended by someone else.

Another said they knew of junior medicos who had died.

“Tragically, I know multiple doctors who have committed suicide who were suffering from burnout and work-related stress at the time," they said.

The report comes amid a major class action in the Federal Court against Peninsula Health over unpaid overtime, as well as other proceedings involving major metropolitan and regional hospitals.

Dr Tomlinson called on Health Minister Mary-Anne Thomas and the secretary of the Department of Health to settle the lawsuits.

"We continue to urge them to settle the junior doctor class actions so that doctors can be working in hospitals rather than being dragged through the courts," she said.

Victorian minister Gabrielle Williams said the health and wellbeing of the medical workforce was extremely important to the government.

"These are the people who are there for us in our times of greatest need, they do incredible work across our health services," she told reporters on Friday.

"We have strong expectations that our health services will be acting in accordance with the enterprise bargaining agreements that apply, ensuring safe worker environments for our health workforce."

Opposition health spokeswoman Georgie Crozier said the union's report and class action showed the extent of the state's "health crisis".

"Doctors should not be being dragged through the courts," she said.

"They should be at the hospital bed ... dealing with sick Victorians.

"They don't need this, our health system doesn't need this."

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