Serious mistakes by exhausted junior doctors are going unreported because they think their concerns are falling on deaf ears, the Resident Doctors Association says.
Junior doctors went back to work at public hospitals yesterday after a 48-hour strike over rosters they say are unsafe.
The Resident Doctors Association (RDA) said some mistakes made by fatigued junior doctors had seriously jeopardised the health of patients.
An August survey of junior doctors said more than 1100 resident doctors felt they had made a medical mistake due to fatigue - with a further 275 saying they'd fallen asleep at the wheel on the way home.
RDA general secretary Deborah Powell said some of the errors were serious.
"Most are at the minor end - memory lapses, loss of empathy. The problem is when the memory lapse results in a serious outcome. So we have had reports of patients deteriorate to the point of admitting to ICU, because the resident has made a mistake."
Many mistakes go unreported by the doctors, because they did not have faith in the DHBs' systems, she said.
"First of all, the resident doctors have been telling the district health boards, but they've been falling on deaf ears. So the first reason is, they've just given up.
"Our delegates on ground level have been reporting it to the managers, reinforcing how important it is that we get this sorted out. But again, they've been met with resistance."
Difficult to believe complaints ignored - DHB
But that was disputed by Canterbury DHB general manager of people and capability Michael Frampton.
Mr Frampton said it was the duty of DHBs to investigate any situation where a patient's treatment has been compromised - and he was not convinced the RDA's figures were right.
"I find it very difficult to believe that any resident medical officer, expressing sincere concerns about the extent to which the quality of the care they're delivering has been compromised, would be falling on deaf ears.
"I find that very difficult to understand."
The RDA had not handed over the raw data used in the survey, which made it impossible to determine whether the claims were true, he said.
However, he had contacted DHBs about claims made by the junior doctors, he said.
"We have written to all 20 district health boards, asking them to furnish specific information in relation to [junior doctors] coming to harm - suffering harm, or potential harm - as a consequence of fatigue. And there have been no such incidents provided back."
Christchurch Hospital junior doctor Charlotte Daker said most of her colleagues did not report incidents to management because the long hours were seen as a rite of passage, and junior doctors did not think anything would be done about it.
"Our forefathers in medicine are always calling back to the time - 'In my day, we worked 72 hours straight.' Because of that background, people don't report it. I mean, who're you going to tell? I don't even know who to tell."
The RDAand DHBs will re-open informal negotiations next week.