COVID-19 wellbeing recovery plan for doctors

by Tim Tonkin

How to identify and address the challenges posed by COVID-19 to doctors’ mental health, were among the issues discussed during an online BMA conference.

Location: UK
Published: Friday 24 July 2020
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A number of specialist speakers from across medicine and healthcare took part in the ‘Wounded Healer’ conference streamed live on 23 July by the association.

The event, which was hosted by BMA council member Clare Gerada (pictured) and council deputy chair David Wrigley, featured a range of speakers who spoke about personal experiences as well as the wider effect on the medical profession during the pandemic.

‘Moral injury’

Among those contributing to the debate was professor of defence mental health at King’s College London Neil Greenberg who said 2020 has been a ‘gruelling time’ for those in the health service, owing to the physical and mental demands of work, challenges to home and family life and bereavements.

He warned how the pandemic had led to a heightened danger of ‘moral injury’ among healthcare professionals.

He said: ‘During the current pandemic, there’s no doubt that healthcare professionals have been exposed to a number of different stressors, and there’s been traumatic exposure no matter what area you’re in.

‘There has also been what’s known as moral injury, situations that clash with one’s moral or ethical code. It could be the junior doctor who has been asked to step up into going to intensive care and doing work that is way beyond their normal competency.’

Heightened risks

Professor Greenberg said that while not a mental health problem by itself, moral injury predisposed people to being at greater risk of PTSD and depression and puts them at increased risk of suicide, adding that the groups most at risk tended to be younger, more junior and inexperienced members of staff.

Addressing the conference, Professor Greenberg explained that combatting moral injury and mental strain required a number of approaches, including ‘psychological PPE’, coping skills set out in what he called a wellness recovery plan.

The plan consists of a list of activities or things such as exercise, talking to others or listening to music that help keep someone well during tough times.

Stronger networks

He added that social support and camaraderie in the workplace through buddying people up also played a big role, as did training and ensuring that senior staff understood how to look out for their colleagues.

He said: ‘In a healthcare setting the supervisors attitude and ability to have proper conversations with staff members is critical to those staff members mental health.

‘The better you can train people to do the task they’re being asked to do, the better their psychological health is.

‘Giving people training on how to use a ventilator or how to develop a drug regime is absolutely a way of protecting that person’s mental health as well.’

Other speakers at the conference included Greater Manchester consultant psychiatrist JS Bamrah who led a breakout session on protecting Black, minority ethnic and Asian doctors doctors and overseas medical graduates, and former Royal College of GPs chair Maureen Baker who spoke about the challenges faced by retired doctors returning to work.