Thirty per cent of doctors in public hospitals are suffering from extreme exhaustion, some harbouring suicidal thoughts, according to a study using an internationally recognised test for burnout.
'Doctors have been forced to work unreasonable [amounts of] overtime, and the workload and pressure has not been properly addressed by the authorities,' said Dr Kenneth Fu Kam-fung, president of the Hong Kong Public Doctors' Association, which helped distribute the survey done by local academics.
The association received 226 responses to questionnaires based on the Maslach Burnout Inventory-Human Services Survey, a widely used measurement of stress. Seventy-one respondents, or 31.4 per cent, said they suffered from high burnout: emotional exhaustion and other symptoms.
'It may lead to reduced job commitment ... problematic patient care, stress-related health problems, low career satisfaction and depression,' the survey report said.
Younger doctors, in particular, said they were 'dissatisfied' or 'very dissatisfied' with their jobs.
About one-tenth had had thoughts of suicide, but none had attempted it.
Karen, 29, a trainee doctor in a medical ward at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, said she worked almost 12 hours a day and was on call once a week, which in effect meant she was on duty for 18 hours straight. 'I once cried out of frustration at my work.'
Fu said: 'This is a lose-lose situation for both doctors and patients, as the staff are working themselves sick, and no patients want to be treated by overly tired and ill doctors.'
The association has written to the Hospital Authority and incoming chief executive Leung Chun-ying, urging measures to relieve the stress.
The Hospital Authority's head of human resources, Dr Derrick Au, said they were aware of the problem and would study the report.
'While we have been running courses to help colleagues handle workplace violence, special new psychological support programmes will be introduced shortly to facilitate resilience of staff under stress,' he said, adding that the authority was operating with a shortfall of 500 doctors.
The survey was conducted in September 2009 but not released until today, when it was published in the Hong Kong Medical Journal.
Another poll this week showed Hong Kong had a severe shortage of nurses at public hospitals.