Working for better health care in New Zealand

The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) is the professional association and union uniting doctors and dentists in New Zealand.

  • News – ASMS News

DHBs urged to address hospital specialist burnout

10 April 2019 Media Release - ASMS

Stress, fatigue, and overwork are taking a toll on New Zealand’s public hospital specialists and District Health Boards need to do much more to support them, Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) Executive Director Ian Powell says.

Research conducted by ASMS in 2016 revealed a 50% burnout rate among senior doctors employed by DHBs.  In response to the lack of concerted action by health bosses to address this crisis, ASMS has developed a practical and collaborative framework to address these concerns. The Standard for Sustainable Work is a 13-point guide to managing issues and stresses that can cause burnout and unsafe practices. The Standard has been distributed to and discussed with DHBs.

Measures outlined in the Standard include the need to correctly assess the number of senior doctors needed in clinical services (through an agreed process called job sizing), recovery time provision, identifying burnout risks, and promoting restorative practices for relationship issues. It advocates a national safe staffing accord, a proposed sector accord developed separately. DHBs have yet to agree to engage over developing an agreed accord while the Minister is yet to provide leadership.

This month in The Specialist, the quarterly magazine produced by ASMS, an anaesthetist speaks out about her experience of burnout on the frontline of a New Zealand hospital. Speaking anonymously, the hospital specialist says mental health stigma makes doctors reluctant to seek help. She took a week off to recover from an experience of burnout and would have taken longer but for surgical lists that would need to be cancelled.

Mr Powell says burnout and mental distress have become more prominent issues, particularly as a new generation of specialists emerge.

There is more awareness in society about mental health generally and the pressures of caring for children.

“Younger specialists, both female and male, have responsibilities for young children. The burnout rate among women in their 30s in our research was an especially concerning 70%.”

“DHBs must take this issue seriously. Hospital specialists are a highly vulnerable workforce due to staff shortages.”

“The Ministry of Health and Health Minister David Clark can play a key role. A good start would be commitment to the need for a specialist safe staffing accord so we and the DHBs reach agreement on a framework that fosters healthy staffing and resourcing. Thus far the response to the accord has been rather lacking in enthusiasm,” Mr Powell says.

The Standard has been disseminated to DHBs and can be read here:

The ASMS research on burnout can be read here:

The anaesthetist’s story can be read on page 8 of The Specialist: