Research by BMA Northern Ireland has found that a nearly a third of doctors here believe their stress levels have increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but they are also reporting a greater sense of team working and feeling less burdened by bureaucracy.
In the latest survey of members in Northern Ireland, 32% reported feeling that they were “suffering from any of depression, anxiety, stress, burnout, emotional distress or other mental health condition relating to or made worse by your work”, with 15% saying they had already been experiencing these feelings but they had not worsened because of the pandemic.
A third (32%) also reported that they had accessed wellbeing support services from either their employer or a third party to help address these issues.
In responses to the survey, doctors said they had concerns both around their experience in work and fear of contracting COVID-19 as well as fears for their family and dealing with the stress of home life:
“I feel I have aged over the past three months, with variable levels of anxiety and stress, it’s been a rollercoaster of emotions, whilst trying to run a practice and protect my staff.”
“The strain on my mental health was at the beginning of the pandemic, with the fear of limited PPE and having to come home to loved ones and risk bringing it to them or getting it myself and leaving my two children without a mum at home. The fear of this was the most stressful part which I feel was a reasonable fear even still.”
“[I experienced] anxiety over my personal well-being and that of my family. Anxiety over any of my patients who aren’t well but not contacting us. Anxious about how we will return to “normal service” and anxious about the potential increase in workload when restrictions ease.”
“We experience dreadful levels of anxiety at times, just like many of our patients, but we have to hide it. Ultimately, we are good at accepting and controlling our symptoms. It is just very hard at times to keep offering empathy and support to others while feeling so anxious and upset.”
“The fatigue after wearing PPE all day cannot be underestimated. It impacts on what I physically and mentally could do after a shift of work. This impacts on physical and mental health if you don’t have the energy to exercise/de-stress after work.”
“I hope that many of the support structures remain once the pandemic is passed, as the need for support existed before the crisis and it will out-live it also. It’s a pity it took a global pandemic for people to realise that doctors are human beings, not indefatigable machines.”
Dr Tom Black, chair of BMA’s Northern Ireland Council, said: “The commitment shown by doctors over the last few months cannot be underestimated. As well as dealing with a rapidly changing work environment, and a completely new disease where there was limited clinical information available, they were along with everyone else dealing with home-schooling, family, parents and the general shock at living through a global pandemic.
“Just over 33% of respondents also said they had to find alternative childcare during this time, which I know added considerably to many doctors stress levels. Worryingly, a small number also said they were unable to work or had to reduce their hours due to childcare concerns. We would be keen to see appropriate provision made for the summer where access to normal summer camps may not be available.”
“The impact of juggling childcare and home-schooling for three children when we are both doctors working long hours and [when the] school provision offers no supported learning is very stressful. We are also very worried about how we will manage childcare in the summer with no trust or other summer scheme.”
The research also asked doctors about positive changes they had experienced: 69% said there had been a greater sense of team-working and 46% said that they had felt less burdened by bureaucracy than normal.
“I have found [during] the pandemic [I was] initially scared and a little anxious of the unknown, fearing the worst. But as time progressed my anxiety subsided and was replaced by a new excitement of challenge and bonding of the medical and nursing and other allied health professionals and looking out for each other.”
“Stressful at the start of the outbreak - mainly because of the unknown. Then as it went on it wasn't too bad. Plenty of support from colleagues and work actually!”
“I feel supported and protected - have enjoyed the re-engagement with colleagues immensely.”
“Covid 19 has changed all our lives. It has impacted not only on our working lives but our personal lives. It has taught me more than ever that we need to work as a team in practise and have a good support network both inside and outside of work. When the Coronavirus pandemic subsides, we must not forget this and continue to support each other and build each other up.”
Dr Black added: “There is no doubt that there has been some positive changes during this time, as well as considerable challenges, and we would hope that these are built on in the future and our members expertise and experience is drawn on as we begin to rebuild our health service.”
Notes to editors
- The survey was carried out between 26-28 May 2020.
- There were 285 respondents from Northern Ireland covering all branches of practice.
For more information please contact Gráinne Brinkley, Communications officer, on 07408 805067.
The BMA is a trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.