Long-term impact of COVID on NHS must not be underestimated

by BMA Scotland Press release from BMA Scotland.
Location: Scotland
Published: Tuesday 5 May 2020

The effect of the COVID pandemic on our NHS and its staff is likely to be felt long into the future, Lewis Morrison, Chair of BMA Scotland said today (Tues May 5th, 2020).

The warning comes as a BMA survey of 1,351 Scottish doctors shows 1 in 4 are suffering from extra stress or burnout due to impact of the pandemic on their work.
Dr Morrison said that for this and many other reasons no-one should expect the NHS to return to a comprehensive programme of more routine work at “the flick of a switch” and called for the process to be carefully managed, with a need to balance patient needs with the wellbeing of staff.

The BMA survey showed:

  • In all nearly 40 per cent of doctors said that they were currently suffering from depression, anxiety, stress, burnout, emotional distress or other mental health condition relating to or made worse by their work. A quarter of the doctors who responded said that was directly due to the impact of COVID19.
  • One in five (20 per cent) said they were not able to access the support for wellbeing they would like.
  • Asked about their main concerns, nearly 50 per cent said it was the long term impact on clinical demand, while a quarter said it was the long term impact on them of new working arrangements.
  • Further improvements in position on PPE was shown – with 36% saying overall, they felt fully protected at work an increase of 14% since the BMA’s last survey. However, 56% say they only feel partly protected, showing that concerns clearly remain.

Dr Morrison said

“The NHS has so far coped incredibly well with the biggest challenge it has faced since its inception. This is in no small way down to the incredible commitment, determination and sacrifice of its staff.

“But this is taking an inevitable toll. Each and every death as a result of COVID is an incredibly sad event for so many families, and our sympathy and thoughts are with them.

“But each death, and the cumulative effect of so many deaths, also has a major impact on the teams caring for them in the community and in hospitals. I am in no way surprised that a quarter of doctors say their mental health is suffering, and that is clearly worrying.

“I am also sure this reflects ongoing concerns about PPE – despite the welcome improvement in supply. Even the process of working while wearing PPE is incredibly stressful, particularly when you know PPE reduces but does not eliminate your risk of infection.

“In some ways, we have taken some steps forward during the pandemic in terms of staff wellbeing – in particular through the local introduction of wellbeing spaces, the removal of parking charges and provision of hot food. That such basic measures took a pandemic to be put in place emphasises the unacceptable place that we came from, and that we cannot retreat from these improvements as Covid-19 hopefully retreats. For those of us in the NHS, if there is a silver lining to this cloud it’s the proof that the wellbeing of staff must be at the heart of what is done.

“Equally we must make sure that the welcome support services that are in place must be properly organised, communicated and continued long term. Access must be easy and tailored to the needs of the healthcare professions.”

Commenting on the concerns of the impact of COVID on long term clinical demand, Dr Morrison said:

“While we have focussed on the immediate challenges of the pandemic, and rightly so – many have expressed concern about the impact on those with other conditions and our ability to care for them.

“Firstly and once again I should emphasise our NHS is open, and if you have any concerns you should seek help.

“Equally, it is not realistic to expect the health service, or the people who work in it to flick a switch and return to normal. The impact of COVID19 is clearly going to be felt long into future, both in terms of staff and services. As we look beyond this pandemic, there will need to be a carefully managed process of returning to more normal service. This will need to be done with the close involvement of representatives from across professions and balance clinical priorities, demand for care and the need to protect staff wellbeing.

“This won’t be easy – but I hope we are witnessing a shift in approach from the Government, based on a commitment to protecting staff across the health service and ensuring they are able to deliver the best care possible for patients. We very much hope that approach feeds through into the Government’s long-term approach to the health service and the incredible people that staff it.”


Notes to editors

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.

Wellbeing question that featured in the survey:

During this pandemic, do you consider that you are currently suffering from any of depression, anxiety, stress, burnout*, emotional distress or other mental health condition relating to or made worse by your work?

Yes - and worse during this pandemic than before 25%
Yes - but no worse than before this pandemic 15%
No 52%
Don't know 5%
Prefer not to say 3%

As a follow up question, doctors were asked: To what extent do you feel able to access the support for your wellbeing that you would like? In response, 20% said not really/not all, 40% said to some extent, while 14% to a significant extent. The remainder said they had not tried to access support.

Issues of most concern to doctors at this stage of Covid-19 pandemic

Finally, respondents were asked to identify the issue causing them most concern relating to the coronavirus at the current time. Almost half of the respondents to this question (1115) stated that the longer-term impact on patient clinical demand was their top concern (47%), while a further 25% were most concerned about the longer-term impact of the pandemic of the new working arrangements. Shortages or quality of PPE was cited as the most concerning issue for 16% of the respondents.


Taking everything in to account, respondents were asked to report whether they felt safely protected from coronavirus in their place of work. Of the 1202 who answered this question, 36% said they felt fully protected – this represents a promising increase of 14% since the previous BMA tracker survey 2 weeks ago. However, 56% felt partially protected, and 5% said they did not feel protected at all.

For further information please contact:

Phone: 0131 247 3018
Mobile: 07768 005 850
Email: Tim Jays ([email protected])