Two in five doctors say mental health is worse now than during the pandemic

20 October 2023

Two in five doctors in Ireland (40%) say their mental health is worse now than it was during the pandemic, and a similar amount (38%) are considering their future in healthcare due to mental health concerns, according to the Medical Protection.

The Medical Protection survey findings, published today at its annual medical conference in Dublin, show that a third of the 900 doctors surveyed (33%) say not being able to do the right thing for patients, or ‘moral injury’, is affecting their current mental health. Others point to the impact of exhaustion on patient safety (43%) and the inability to take breaks to eat and drink (36%).

More than four in five doctors (82%) go on to say that staff shortages make it difficult for them to take time off to deal with mental health issues, and nearly three quarters (74%) feel the Government could do more to help doctors with mental health issues.

Medical Protection – which is part of the world’s leading protection organisation that supports over 300,000 healthcare professionals globally including 16,000 in Ireland – says more action is needed if we are to retain the many passionate, committed doctors on the verge of quitting due to mental health concerns.

Speaking at the Medical Protection conference, Dr Rachel Birch, Medicolegal Consultant at Medical Protection, said: “Clearly many healthcare professionals in Ireland are becoming increasingly exhausted and disillusioned due to the variety of challenges and pressures they face daily – pressures which unfortunately will take some time to resolve.

“When mental wellbeing is poor, it is worrying for the individual, but can also jeopardise patient care. Without support, mental wellbeing issues can result in doctors needing extended periods of time off work or considering leaving the healthcare profession altogether. This is the last thing we need.

“Three quarters of the doctors we surveyed feel the Government should do more to support the profession with mental wellbeing issues, and indeed the Government must play its part by ensuring mental health services for doctors are funded and effective, however we recognise this is not just a challenge to be met by the Government.

“We as doctors have a responsibility to attend to our own mental health and ultimately ensure we continue to perform at our best for patients. Doctors should avoid self-assessing their mental health and should have their own GP to ensure they are properly cared for.

“Doctors, whether working in primary care, HSE or private clinics, must also feel their mental health is a priority and employers should ensure they do everything possible to create a supportive environment. For example, through the facilitation of peer support groups, the provision of accessible wellbeing support, and building awareness of the various services and resources available externally.

“The reality is that swathes of passionate, committed doctors, who we must retain in the workforce, are on the verge of quitting due to mental health concerns. Doing nothing is simply not an option.

“We urge healthcare professionals who are struggling, to make use of the mental wellbeing resources available – for example, Medical Protection provides an independent, 24/7 counselling service  for those experiencing stress that they feel could impact their practice, as a benefit of membership. There is also the Practitioner Health Matters Programme, and the Health in Practice Programme which is run by the Irish College General Practitioners.”

Doctors who participated in Medical Protection’s survey commented anonymously:

“Many GPs and Consultants are considering quitting medicine altogether within the next few years. This is the only profession that you have to constantly watch over your shoulders. Modern medicine is full of 'paranoia’, and something needs to change. Being a doctor is very 'expensive' in all aspects: financially, mentally, and physically.”

“Leaving hospital medicine due to regular breach of contract regarding working hours, constant staff shortage and general burnout”.

“Irish health system is at an all-time low. I know of at least 4 consultants who have either had breakdowns or committed suicide, and another who collapsed from exhaustion.”

“I have left day-to-day General Practice prematurely due to the medico-legal pressures, lack of resources, increased patient demand, more complex guidelines to adhere to, and lack of support. Effectively we are being "Hung out to dry". Things must change significantly if we are to retain a viable primary care workforce.”

“I took early retirement last year as I could not continue full time, getting burnt out and afraid I might do something I would regret.”


Notes to editors

For further information contact [email protected]

The Medical Protection survey was completed by 882 doctors in Ireland. The survey was in the field from 18 July to 18 August 2023.

Key findings.

  • 40% of doctors said their mental wellbeing is worse now than it was during the pandemic.
  • 74% of doctors believe the Government is not doing enough to help healthcare workers with mental wellbeing issues.
  • 33% said not being able to do the right thing for patients is impacting their current mental wellbeing.
  • 43% said the impact of exhaustion or burnout on patient safety is impacting their current mental wellbeing.
  • 36% said the inability to take breaks during the day to eat and drink is impacting their current mental wellbeing.
  • 82% said staff shortages make it difficult to take time off to deal with mental wellbeing issues.
  • 38% said they are considering their future in healthcare due to mental wellbeing concerns.