Urgent action is needed to manage doctor fatigue, says BMA

Authors: Abi Rimmer 

Publication date:  11 Jan 2018

The government and employers must act urgently to tackle the risk of fatigue in doctors, the BMA has said.

In a report published on 9 January the association warns that fatigue and sleep deprivation are a danger to patients and doctors because of increased clinical error, occupational incidents, road traffic crashes, and needlestick injuries.

The BMA’s report urges the government and other national bodies to develop a comprehensive approach to managing fatigue in doctors.[1] This should initially focus on raising awareness of the risks associated with fatigue and should provide support to manage these risks, the report says. It should also involve changing working patterns where possible and ensuring compliance with health and safety requirements, the BMA advises.

In the longer term, fatigue management should be a central part of medical training, workforce planning, and service design, the association says. The government should ensure that all NHS employers have systems in place to limit working patterns that increase the risk of fatigue among doctors, the report recommends, and it should make sure that NHS staff have access to occupational medicine specialists.

The BMA’s report also urges employers to implement a system to allow doctors who are not working under the 2016 junior doctors contract to have access to exception reporting—a system through which doctors can raise concerns about their working hours.

Doctors should also have rest periods built into their working hours, be allowed adequate recovery time of at least 11 hours between shifts, and be allowed to take annual leave when they choose rather than at fixed times in the rota, the report says.

Commenting on the report, Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said, “Given the enormous pressure that doctors and clinical staff working in the NHS are currently facing, more must be done to address the growing prevalence of fatigue and sleep deprivation owing to the increasing demands being placed on them.”

Nagpaul said that it was “vital” to make “improvements to long term workforce planning that will ensure meaningful change for staff and patients.”


  1. BMA. Fatigue and sleep deprivation. 8 Jan 2018. [Link] .

Abi Rimmer BMJ Careers


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