Rota gaps putting patient safety at risk, warn leading doctors

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Gaps in doctors’ rotas could be putting patient safety at risk, leading medics have said.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said shortfalls are putting some doctors in situations when they are forced to act above their skill level.

The majority of the 1,000 English doctors who responded to the BMA poll said they had been forced to take on the work on multiple staff.

Meanwhile some organisations are “obscuring” rota gaps, according to a report.

The BMA warned: “Unmanageable workloads impact on their morale, motivation, well-being and on the quality of care they can offer to patients.”

The report sets out how, in the face of rising patient demand, hospitals have been left “chronically understaffed” as a result of long-standing recruitment and retention problems.

Of those surveyed, 80% said their employers encouraged staff to take on the workload of multiple people.

Meanwhile 68% said they had been asked to act up into more senior roles or cover for junior colleagues.

The authors of the report wrote: “This indicates staff shortages, raises concerns about the responsibility placed on inexperienced junior doctors and increases the risk of errors when diagnosing, treating and caring for patients.”

Almost two in three (65%) said trainees are pressured to take on extra shifts, while 35% said their employers had redesigned rotas to include fewer doctors, thereby obscuring the rota gap problem.

As well as impacting on patient care, rota gaps are limiting access to training and contributing to low morale among staff, the BMA said.

The doctors’ union has called on the Government to tackle the root causes of rota gaps.

The report also sets out recommendations to help mitigate the negative impact of gaps in rotas.

Dr Pete Campbell, deputy chairman of the BMA junior doctor committee, said: “With many doctors beginning new placements this week, these findings highlight the scale of rota gap issues across the country and bring to light the severity of the problems we face.

“The BMA has consistently warned of the serious risk to patient safety because of rota gaps as the increasing pressure that doctors are being placed under means that they are often unable to deliver satisfactory levels of care.

“As well as being placed at increased risk of burnout and stress, doctors are being routinely failed by missing out on important training and career development opportunities which has an obvious impact on morale and work satisfaction, undermining our ability to deliver high-quality care in the future.

“With significant recruitment and retention issues throughout medical specialties across the country, the Government must finally recognise how serious this problem is and address the huge recruitment and retention issues facing us.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “It’s vital that hospitals plan and modernise rota systems to support doctors and make sure patients get good, safe care.

“We’re committed to improving the work/life balance of staff by expanding flexible working and e-rostering, and providing more staff through the biggest ever increase in training places for doctors and five new medical schools.”

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