TORONTO — The head of a Toronto cardiac centre is urging immediate support for stressed-out doctors, nurses and other health-care staff, describing their risk of burnout as "a public health crisis."
Dr. Barry Rubin, chair and medical director of the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre at the University Health Network, says surveys conducted at a cardiovascular centre before the pandemic found 78 per cent of nurses, 65 per cent of physicians and 73 per cent of other health staff described feelings of burnout.
The surveys were conducted between Nov. 27, 2018 and Jan. 31, 2019 and do not take into account the impact COVID-19 might have had on staff since then.
But UHN's psychiatrist-in-chief said there's no doubt the pandemic has compounded feelings of fatigue, stress and depression for many health-care workers.
"COVID has really exacerbated a problem that was already there," Dr. Susan Abbey said of findings published Tuesday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal Open.
"Almost everybody's struggling on the front line."
The UHN study surveyed 414 doctors, nurses and allied staff including physical, respiratory and occupational therapists, social workers, and speech-language pathologists.
Burnout can involve professional dissatisfaction, job turnover, decreased quality of life, and thoughts of suicide.
It also affects care, Rubin said.
"It is associated with an increased incidence of medical errors, serious safety events, readmission to hospital, worse patient outcomes and in some situations even increased patient mortality," Rubin said Tuesday in a release.
"Clinician burnout is a public health crisis that we must address now."
The warnings come as new data suggests Ontario’s health system will be overwhelmed unless a winter surge in infections is contained.
Provincial modelling suggests there could be about 500 COVID-19 patients in intensive care by mid-January as the number of free beds dwindles, and that deaths could double to 100 a day by the end of February under current restrictions.
That will put added pressure on health-care workers in the weeks ahead, officials warned.
Dr. Dominique Désy of the association of general practitioners of the Yamaska region, called on the general public to adhere to public health rules, acknowledging many people are emotionally drained by ongoing calls for vigilance.
"They're fed up. And it's been too long, and they want to live the life they want ... I get that, we get that," said Désy.
"But the narrow angle of this pandemic is going to be at the end (when hospitals may have) to pick and choose who's going to stay on the breathing machine or not. And nobody wants to get there."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 12, 2021.
Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press