Hospital Dr News

NHS doctors seek mental health support during the Covid-19 pandemic

A fifth of medics say they’ve sought informal mental health support during the pandemic, while a tenth say they’ve sought formal mental health support from either their employer, GP or external services.

Research by the RCP shows that the majority of doctors (64%) feel tired or exhausted, and many are worried (48%).

Despite 85% of doctors reporting having had the first dose of a vaccine, only 16% have had both doses. Over half (58%) are either very worried or slightly worried about having to wait 12 weeks for their next jab, an issue which has caused considerable anxiety within the profession.

On the positive side, a third of nearly 2000 doctors who responded feel supported (35%) and determined (37%).

The second wave of coronavirus is undoubtedly hitting the NHS far harder than the first, with three quarters of doctors finding this second wave either slightly or much busier compared to the peak in April.

56% are very concerned about the impact of rising COVID-19 admissions on their organisation’s capacity to deliver safe and effective care.

Improvements in treatments for COVID-19 mean that in this second wave a much smaller proportion of hospitalised COVID-19 patients are requiring ventilation in Intensive Treatment Units (ITU).

This, however, is placing huge pressure on the wider medical team in all specialties, particularly respiratory medicine.

In some hospitals, up to 95% of COVID-19 patients are receiving care outside of Intensive Care Units on medical wards acting as COVID-19 wards.

20% of physicians have been redeployed during this wave, most to these COVID-19 wards.

NHS understaffed

Although the pandemic brings unprecedented pressure, the RCP considers understaffing to be the root of many of these problems, with 55% of consultant posts unfilled even prior to the pandemic.

Prof Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: “There is no way to dress it up – it is pretty awful at the moment in the world of medicine. Hospital admissions are at the highest ever level, staff are exhausted, and although there is light at the end of the tunnel, that light seems a long way away.

“I am extremely concerned about the mental health of frontline doctors, who may be suffering from burnout and a feeling of not being valued.

“Staff will be in desperate need of a break and will need specific time away if they’re to be at their best after the pandemic.”

On 12 April at the peak of the first wave there were 21,684 patients in hospital with COVID-19, 15% of which were ventilated (3,301 patients).

In comparison, on 15 January, 10% of the 37,475 patients in hospital with COVID-19 were on ventilation (3,789 patients). That represents a 73% increase in the number of patients with COVID-19 being treated by the wider medical team beyond ITU.

Goddard added: “Workforce shortages need to be urgently addressed post-pandemic if we’re ever to reduce the immense pressure on NHS staff and ensure that they are prepared and supported to get the NHS back on an even keel.”

Rebecca Smith, managing director of NHS Employers, said: “The dedication and commitment of all NHS staff to keep going during this COVID emergency should not be understated, but this way of working is clearly unsustainable, and an honest conversation will be needed about how quickly the NHS can spring back once this peak subsides.”

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