Over two thirds of NI doctors say they have been unable to provide a full range of services to non-Covid patients as we approach Christmas

by BMA Northern Ireland media team

Press release from BMA Northern Ireland.

Location: Northern Ireland
Last reviewed: 21 December 2020

Over 70% of doctors working in Northern Ireland say they have been unable to provide a full range of services to non-Covid patients over the last two weeks, with over 66% saying current levels of fatigue or exhaustion are higher than normal.

In the latest BMA survey of its members in Northern Ireland, 89% of respondents said they felt uneasy at being unable to provide care to the standard they would like during the pandemic, with over 46% stating that this feeling of uneasiness has worsened since October.

Speaking about the survey, Dr John D Woods, BMA’s Northern Ireland consultants committee chair, said: “We are entering the traditionally busy winter period with a third pandemic surge in progress. Elective care waiting lists now as bad as they have ever been and the feeling of frustration amongst clinicians at this situation is clearly laid bare in these survey findings.

“Over half of all doctors surveyed said they felt ‘anxious’ at being unable to see and treat patients at the appropriate time in their clinical setting or for procedures during the pandemic, with 46% saying this made them ‘angry’. We now need to make sure that there is clear planning for the next stages of the pandemic and clear messaging to the public as to why these restrictions are necessary. 47% of doctors told us that they and their colleagues were managing well, but they would not be able to do that indefinitely.”

The survey – which was conducted between 15 to 17 December and prior to the latest Northern Ireland Executive announcement of a six-week full lockdown from Boxing Day - also found that doctors were acutely concerned at what effect the Christmas relaxation period would have on their workloads and the healthcare system as a whole. Over 72% said they were ‘extremely concerned’ about the potential for an increase in the level of Covid-related demand on the healthcare system as a result of Christmas relaxation period, while 65% said they expected a ‘significant increase’ in their workloads in the weeks immediately following the Christmas relaxation period.

“These answers tell us that doctors have a genuinely heightened sense of worry at what lies ahead after Christmas in terms of patient care and service delivery,” continued Dr Woods.

“Therefore, it is imperative on us all to do what we can to control the spread of this virus within our communities over the Christmas period and before the new lockdown period takes effect from Boxing Day. Nearly 90% of doctors told us that maintaining social distancing and wearing facemasks where social distancing is not possible should be adhered to over Christmas. Nearly 80% advised to mix with the absolute minimum number of family; over 78% advised avoiding visits to clinically vulnerable people. These are all effective ways that can help limit virus transmission and ease subsequent pressures on frontline health service staff further on down the line.”

Dr Woods warned that there must not be a return to the pre-covid ways of running the health service once the virus is under control.

“There is a lot of work to be done once the pandemic is over to repair our health system and make it fit for purpose and one in which doctors will want to work,” he said.

“Our survey told us that over half of doctors who responded were thinking of reducing their hours. In order to plan for that the Executive must prioritise and finance total HSC reconfiguration as outlined in Health and Wellbeing 2026 along with proper monitoring of clinical and medical workforce levels so timely and proactive action can be taken before another crisis like covid-19 occurs. Anything less would be an insult to the work and sacrifices health care staff have made throughout this pandemic and, most importantly, to all the lives that have been lost.”

Notes to editors

  • 359 doctors from across Northern Ireland responded to the survey which was carried out between the 15th and 17th December 2020.
  • In response to the question ‘How would you describe your current levels of fatigue or exhaustion from working or studying during this pandemic?’, 66.47% answered ‘Higher than normal’.
  • In response to 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 or study?’, 52.87% answered ‘Yes - and worse than before the start of the pandemic’.
  • In response to the question ‘I have felt uneasy that I cannot provide care to the standard I would
    like during the pandemic’, 46.08% answered ‘Yes - and getting worse since October’, 21% answered ‘Yes - but more so in the first peak’, and 21.94% answered ‘Yes - at the same level since March’.
  • In response to the question ‘In the nine months since the beginning of the pandemic, how well do you think you and your colleagues have coped given the enormous impact Covid-19 has had on the health service?’, 47.98% answered ‘Extremely well - but unlikely to be able to continue indefinitely’
  • In response to the question ‘Being unable to see and treat patients at the appropriate time in my
    clinical setting or for procedures during the pandemic has made me feel these ways (please tick all that apply)’, 51.41% answered ‘Anxious’, 46.39% answered ‘Angry / Irritated’, and 27.90% answered ‘distressed’.
  • In response to the question ‘How concerned are you about the potential for an increase in the level of Covid-related demand on the healthcare system as a result of Christmas 'relaxation' period?’, 72.70% answered ‘Extremely concerned’.
  • In response to the question ‘To what extent do you expect your workload to change in the weeks immediately following the Christmas 'relaxation' period as proposed by government?’, 65.79% answered ‘Significant increase’.
  • In response to the question ‘Which of the following recommendations do you think people should follow over the Christmas 'relaxation' period? Please tick all that apply’, 88.36% chose ‘Maintain social distancing / Wear facemasks where not possible’, 79.79% chose ‘Mix with absolute minimum number of family’, 78.77% chose ‘Do not visit clinically vulnerable people’, 76.37% chose ‘Do not visit pubs, restaurants, or sporting events’, 69.86% chose ‘Limit physical shopping trips’, 65.41% chose ‘Follow rules around 'Xmas family bubbles' strictly’, and 59.59% chose ‘Do not undertake long-distance travel’.
  • In response to the question ‘How, if at all, have you changed your career plans for the next year in the following areas?’, 51.29% said ‘Working fewer hours’.
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