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Fatigue important to consider in sharps safety

May 29, 2015

A new social media campaign has highlighted the importance of having measures in place to control tiredness in healthcare workers, and ensure that it does not progress to long-term fatigue.

Suffering from fatigue during a shift can affect a professional's capacity to do their job to the highest standard, which can impact patient care and even jeopardise sharps safety. When staff members become overtired or overworked and don't take their recommended break, it can increase their risk of suffering a needlestick injury and becoming exposed to bloodborne pathogens.

However, are enough measures being put in place to ensure that doctors, surgeons, nurses and other healthcare workers are being safeguarded from the damaging effects of fatigue? A recent social media storm would suggest not.

According to a report from the BBC, it all started when a blogger posted an image taken by a patient of a medical resident asleep on the job in Mexico. The post said: "We are aware that this is a tiring job but doctors are obliged to do their work.

"There are dozens of patients in need of attention."

In Mexico, and a number of other countries in the region, it's common for junior doctors to work up to 36-hour shifts in their final years of training. However, the blogger criticised that, once qualified, doctors enjoy a good salary and quality of life, unlike many of the patients they will treat.

However, many professionals in the medical field responded to this observation, and started the hashtag #YoTambienMeDormi ("I've also fallen asleep").

Juan Carlos, who is also a Mexican doctor and started the hashtag, saying he had also fallen asleep after operating on up to four patients on a shift.

He told BBC Trending that he wanted to "expose the differences between the rights of doctors and the rights of patients".

"As a doctor here in Mexico, it's illegal to take a picture of a patient without their prior consent, even if it's for medical purposes. But a patient can take a photo of a doctor with the sole purpose of damaging our reputation."

The campaign has gathered more than 17,000 supporters on Twitter and thousands more on Facebook. Many are also posting pictures of themselves sleeping while at work to show how exhausting their role is.

Recent European laws have come into place to limit doctors to working no more than 45 hours across a week. Although some have criticised the European Working Time Directive saying it doesn't leave enough time for training, it is these kind of measures that help prevent fatigue in healthcare professionals.

Ensuring all healthcare workers are well rested and take their regular breaks can help sharps safety practices get the highest level of adherence.

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