Doctors across Northern Ireland are growing increasingly worried about the effect on covid-19 on other patients, both those with new illnesses and those who were already undertaking treatment.
BMA Northern Ireland surveyed its members last week and over 60% of doctors said the situation was ‘worsening’ for non-covid patients, and 44% said their main concern at this time was the longer-term impact on patient clinical demand.
Speaking about the survey, Dr Tom Black, BMA Northern Ireland council chair, said: “As we move towards the second phase of 19 and what will be a ‘new normal’ we need to urgently look at how we begin to get patients with non-covid illnesses back into the system, as well as dealing with ongoing covid cases and the new covid cases that will undoubtedly emerge.
“Doctors right across Northern Ireland were able to pivot their services quickly to address the sudden health needs that emerged; doctors of all grades in hospitals were redeployed and some of our members had to take the lead in developing these new systems and services.
Our GPs also rapidly developed the model for covid assessment centres to ensure patients could still be seen in the community.
“But what was is clear from this survey is that doctors can see that without some type of ‘twin track’ approach now being developed the prospects for patients will worsen.
“The Health minister has acknowledged that we already had a dreadful situation with our waiting lists and that has not got better during the pandemic, but it will be even more challenging now to address those long waits, see new patients who have been reluctant to seek help during the initial pandemic phase and maintain the ability to pivot our services again should we see a second surge in coronavirus cases.
“We need to build on what we have learnt during this time and how we addressed the issue thanks to the innovation and leadership our members demonstrated and make sure we can harness and value that input for the next phase.”
The survey, which is the largest survey of doctors undertaken in Northern Ireland during the pandemic, also found that a quarter of doctors felt they were experiencing ‘depression, anxiety, stress and burnout’ that was worse because of the pandemic.
Dr Noel Sharkey, chair of the BMA-NI junior doctors committee, said: “It is concerning to see members saying they are feeling increasingly stressed due to the pandemic. Speaking to my junior doctor colleagues they are telling me that they have had their rotas changed without proper consultation, they are being asked to work longer and more anti-social hours than before the pandemic and often in a new specialty area. This feeling is reflected in the survey results where over 66% of doctors tell us they were not given a choice to accept redeployment while 81% say they do not know how long they will be redeployed for. There is no doubt that this will have a negative impact on mental health.
“About 58% are then telling us that they have only partially been able to access support for their wellbeing. As it has been said the pandemic is a marathon not a sprint so we would urge any doctor who is feeling burnout to access support and help.”
Notes to editors
652 doctors from across Northern Ireland responded to the survey which was carried out between the 28th and 30th April 2020.
In response to the question ‘To what extent is prioritisation of patients with possible or confirmed COVID-19 in your place of work or the local NHS affecting the care available to those patients with no COVID-19 symptoms?’, 27.04% said it was ‘slightly worsening’ while 33.80% said it was ‘significantly worsening’.
On the question, “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?” (*Burnout is characterised by a state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress), although half reported they were not suffering, 25% said they were and that it was worse as a result of the crisis.
The BMA provides a range of wellbeing services including 24/7 counselling.
On the question, “Have you had to purchase items of PPE directly yourself, or received supplies as an external donation (e.g. charity, local firms), due to non-availability of official NHS procurement supplies?” Just under 57% said that they had either bought PPE or had it donated to them for use.
On the question “If you have not reported or spoken out about an issue, why was this?” 28% of doctors told the BMA they wouldn’t bother to speak up about an issue such as PPE or staffing shortages, as they didn’t think anything would be done about it, 8.5% said they feared speaking out.
On the question, “Taking everything into account, do you feel safely protected from coronavirus infection in your place of work?” 54% of doctors said the felt either partly or not at all protected.
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