Drowsy Docs Down-Under Directed To Drink More Coffee

Clinical Herbalist Reviewed on September 9, 2009 by Paulina Nelega, RH
Posted in Blog

Overworked Australian doctors have been told that they should drink up to 6 cups of coffee per day in order to stay awake whilst they are working extended shifts.

The Fatigue Management Strategy

This advice comes directly from Queensland Health’s 102 page “fatigue management strategy” in which it is stated that the “strategic use of caffeine” could prove to be quite advantageous to doctors suffering from minor exhaustion.

So as to stay awake on the job, Australian Doctors were encouraged to consume 400 milligrams of caffeine, which is roughly six cups of coffee a day, as per the suggestion that is found in Queensland Health’s report.

However, drinking such an excessive amount of coffee is “not always feasible or realistic”, and so it was added that the over-worked doctors could also swallow caffeine tablets or drink energy drinks as an alternative to drinking coffee.

An excerpt from the document reads:

“Compared with other psychoactive drugs, for example, modafinil (a prescription-only narcolepsy treatment), caffeine is supported in its use as it is more readily available and less expensive.”

The State of Queensland issued the strategy report after a survey of 113 state hospitals revealed that 88% of the doctors routinely complained about suffering with dangerous fatigue whilst working their shifts.

Salaried Doctor’s Queensland

In conjunction with this survey, a Queensland union representing the doctors, also issued a warning that those patients who were in public hospitals were actually dying as a result of their doctors being so tired after working nearly 80 hours without a break.

Not surprisingly, the mere suggestion that doctors should resort to drinking excessive amounts of coffee has brought disgust to most of Queensland’s doctors. A member of Salaried Doctor’s Queensland, which represents most of the doctors, Susannah McAuliffe, described the strategy as being “absolutely ridiculous” and is sure to put patients in more danger. Salaried Doctor’s Queensland believes that forcing doctors to consume extreme amounts of caffeine is, in actual fact, a rather inadequate way of dealing with the fatigue of the doctors. The fatigue occurs due to doctors working up to 80 hours per week caused by a shortage of doctors in Australia. Most Australian doctors are emigrating to other countries to follow better offers of employment.

Other Opinions

The Chairman of the Australian Medical Association, Andrew Pesce, strongly feels that the real answer to fatigue management is a better rostering system that should ultimately be adopted by all of the hospitals:

“It would be hard for me to be convinced that caffeine that makes you feel less tired is going to necessarily improve your performance. I think at the end of the day, we should be focusing on a fundamentally safe rostering system and an acknowledgement that certain minimum number of hours of sleep is what is necessary to maximize performance.”

However, Steven Hambleton, the Vice President of the Australian Medical Association, expresses his viewpoint:

“For management to just say go and have a cup of coffee and get over tiredness, it cheapens the whole issue. We are talking about serious issues here, and this is not just a serious suggestion at all. It can’t be a weakness to say you’re dog tired.”

Queensland’s Labor Health Minister, Paul Lucas, explained that Queensland was in the process of training more doctors and will also be attempting to limit all doctors’ shifts to only 12 hours per day over the next two years, although he did not have any immediate answer to the fatigue problem that the doctors are currently suffering from due to staff shortages, saying:

“If the doctors are not there, we can’t do it. We can’t say we’d rather not have it as it is and create doctors out of the air.”

The Australian Goverment’s Plan

It is interesting to note, however, that the Australian government is under a lot of pressure to obtain control of the nation’s deteriorating public hospital and health system. Most public hospitals are presently being managed by individual state governments with the use of federal funding. Such a radical takeover is estimated to cost about $20.5 billion.

During his 2007 campaign, Australia’s Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, promised the Australian people that repairing the ailing public hospitals and health system would be a top priority, which some people believed to have been what helped him to win the election.

However, even though Rudd apparently delayed a decision on the matter by six months only last month, he has stated that a full takeover of all of Australia’s public hospitals was still a strong possibility.

Photo Credit: Refracted Moments

Read also: Does Your Child Have Trouble Staying Focused? Kids’ Attention Gold

Our Expert

Paulina Nelega, RH
Paulina Nelega, RH, has been in private practice as a Clinical Herbalist for over 15 years. She has developed and taught courses in herbal medicine, and her articles on health have appeared in numerous publications. She is very passionate about the healing power of nature. Ask Dr. Jan

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