SUNDAY was World Health Day, a day dedicated to making sure health and wellness is on everyone’s minds.

But the South African Society of Anaesthesiologists is taking it a bit further by asking a question seldom asked: who cares for the caregivers?

The society had a meeting in Joburg to take the pulse of Mzansi’s clinicians – specifically those working in the demanding field of anaesthesia.

Experts, including clinicians and researchers, backed up by solid data, said that doctor wellness is not viewed as a priority in this country compared to other nations.

And this leads to high levels of stress, burnout, substance use and depression among those overworked in the medical profession.

Dr Caroline Lee, an anaesthetist in private practice and one of the organisers, said: “If we don’t fix this issue, quality patient care will become unsustainable in the future.”

She said the health of healthcare providers is critical.

Professor Johan Coetzee of the University of Stellenbosch said that according to a 2018 survey, 18% of anaesthetists working in South Africa’s public sector suffer from extreme burnout, with 7% of their private sector counterparts affected too.

The international average for anaesthesiologists suffering from extreme burnout is 6,2%. Unlike in South Africa, clinical burnout is a recognised illness in European countries.

While those countries provide support, many burnout victims self-medicate to cope with the stress.

While only 1% of respondents fell into the high-risk category of substance abuse it focused on alcohol only.

There is a hidden culture of sedative abuse too.

The Society of Anaesthesiologists is committed to helping members look after their own physical and mental health, and to achieving a better work-life balance.