TRAINEE medics, who are working dangerously long hours, are at risk of depression, anxiety and substance abuse, according to junior doctor Irene Timony.
Dr Timony (29), from Ballsbridge, Dublin – who is training to be a psychiatrist in St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin – regularly works 24-hour shifts and can end up caring for very unwell and suicidal patients while she herself has not slept.
"Psychiatry is one of the few areas where junior doctors can limit their shift to 24 hours – you could have surgeons who have not slept for much longer operating and that is not safe," she warned.
The young medic is among a group of junior doctors who launched a campaign yesterday to reduce the long-running scandal of marathon shifts, which can clock up working weeks of 100 hours.
The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), the doctors' union, is to ballot its 2,000 members next month for industrial action, and it is not ruling out strike action as a "last resort" if hospitals fail to comply with the legal 48-hour week .
The ballot is expected to result in an overwhelming vote in favour of action in early autumn, which will initially involve work stoppages – impacting on those patients on hospital waiting lists.
Irene said: "The biggest reason why so many Irish doctors are emigrating is because they cannot stick the working conditions."
Dr Niall Kelly (28), from Lifford in Co Donegal, who is a trainee surgeon, has endured shifts where he has started work on Friday morning and not finished until the following Monday afternoon. "You have the day job and then you are on call for the emergency department. The next morning you hand over from there at 8am and then it is back to the day job again.
"You are trying to stay awake at 5am in the morning. There are no near misses that I recognise but perhaps I just don't know about them."
He believes it is possible to provide doctors with the training they need on lesser hours, saying more focus on quality would allow the junior doctors to get the experience they need.
The HSE said hospitals were taking action to try to ensure that junior doctors were not working more than 68 hours a week and not being rostered for shifts of longer than 24 hours.