A national survey of the effects of fatigue on trainees in anaesthesia in the UK

Anaesthesia. 2017 Sep;72(9):1069-1077. doi: 10.1111/anae.13965. Epub 2017 Jul 5.


Long daytime and overnight shifts remain a major feature of working life for trainees in anaesthesia. Over the past 10 years, there has been an increase in awareness and understanding of the potential effects of fatigue on both the doctor and the patient. The Working Time Regulations (1998) implemented the European Working Time Directive into UK law, and in August 2009 it was applied to junior doctors, reducing the maximum hours worked from an average of 56 per week to 48. Despite this, there is evidence that problems with inadequate rest and fatigue persist. There is no official guidance regarding provision of a minimum standard of rest facilities for doctors in the National Health Service, and the way in which rest is achieved by trainee anaesthetists during their on-call shift depends on rota staffing and workload. We conducted a national survey to assess the incidence and effects of fatigue among the 3772 anaesthetists in training within the UK. We achieved a response rate of 59% (2231/3772 responses), with data from 100% of NHS trusts. Fatigue remains prevalent among junior anaesthetists, with reports that it has effects on physical health (73.6% [95%CI 71.8-75.5]), psychological wellbeing (71.2% [69.2-73.1]) and personal relationships (67.9% [65.9-70.0]). The most problematic factor remains night shift work, with many respondents commenting on the absence of breaks, inadequate rest facilities and 57.0% (55.0-59.1) stating they had experienced an accident or near-miss when travelling home from night shifts. We discuss potential explanations for the results, and present a plan to address the issues raised by this survey, aiming to change the culture around fatigue for the better.

Keywords: doctors; fatigue; rest facilities; shift work.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic
  • Adult
  • Anesthesiology / education*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Internship and Residency*
  • Male
  • Mental Fatigue / epidemiology*
  • Mental Fatigue / psychology*
  • Personnel Staffing and Scheduling
  • Physicians
  • Rest
  • State Medicine
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • Work Schedule Tolerance
  • Workload