Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Hospital apologises to junior doctors after threatening to make it harder to rest on late shifts

Overworked junior doctors at a Sydney hospital have been warned that they would be punished for taking naps during quiet night shifts, and lounges would be replaced with “less comfortable chairs”.

In an email seen by the ABC sent to junior medical officers (JMO) at Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Hospital by their manager, doctors were admonished for taking rest breaks.

In it, staff were told a cup of tea may be “just what the doctor ordered”, but making themselves a “cosy bed” to nap was not permitted.

“You are not being paid to sleep while on shift,” the email said.

“It has become painfully obvious that some JMOs feel that the night shifts are not very busy.

“As each day passes pillows and blankets continue to multiply and are often left (for all to see) all over the lounges clearly indicating that some JMOs appear to be making themselves a cozy bed to sleep while they are meant to be on shift!

“Whilst it is acknowledged that there may be times when it might not be very busy on the wards and a cup of tea and a break is just what the Dr ordered, sleeping in the JMO lounge IS NOT professional nor permitted.

“If this unprofessional behavior continues strategies can be put in place to increase the night time workload and less comfortable chairs will replace the lounges to discourage this growing practice.”

The manager noted that as the hospital’s emergency department was “chronically understaffed”, junior doctors who were not busy on a ward were expected to assist in the ED.

The email has been circulated online and has prompted outrage amongst junior doctors across the state.

One doctor who spoke to the ABC on the condition of anonymity said the email was offensive.

“As a junior doctor, who often don’t get lunch breaks and work overtime (paid or unpaid), the email felt like a slap in the face and the threats to make seats more uncomfortable and to increase the workload was a shock to both me and my friends and colleagues,” they said.

“I think coming up to Christmas when we would expect staff to be kinder and more supportive, this has been a completely outrageous email to send to burnt out junior medical staff.”

After being contacted by the ABC, a spokesperson for the Northern Sydney Local Health District said the email was unacceptable and the person who felt it was being “counselled” by hospital management.

“Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Hospital has apologized to junior medical officers (JMOs) who received an insensitive and inappropriate email that was not endorsed by hospital management,” the spokesperson said.

“JMOs are highly regarded within the hospital and work incredibly hard caring for patients and supporting senior medical staff.

The spokesperson said junior doctors at the hospital were encouraged to use a dedicated lounge area to take rest and meal breaks as often as required.

The Australian Medical Association NSW’s doctors-in-training committee co-chair Dr Sanjay Hettige said public hospitals across the state were under pressure and junior doctors were at the coalface.

“Well-rested doctors deliver better care to patients,” Dr Hettige said.

“Doctors are entitled to a meal break on a night shift and if they choose to rest during this time then that is their right.”

He said the 2022 Hospital Health Check found an increase in the number of doctors-in-training working overtime and almost half reported making a fatigue-induced error.


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