Personal impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on doctors' wellbeing revealed in major BMA survey

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA

Location: UK
Published: Monday 1 June 2020

Personal impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on doctors' wellbeing revealed in major BMA survey
Doctors from across the UK have told first-hand the effect that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on their mental health and wellbeing, describing increased stress, anxiety and emotional exhaustion in recent months.

In the BMA’s latest tracker survey, more than 7,000 doctors responded to questions about their mental health and more than 2,000 provided personal accounts of the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on them1.

They described how long working hours in unfamiliar settings, intensified conditions, worries about PPE, fear of contracting Covid and passing it on to their loved ones, losing such a high number of patients and seeing bereaved families, was having an effect on their own wellbeing.

A snapshot of responses2 include:

  • “Seeing people dying, receiving and breaking bad news, no socialising outside work to refresh and recharge – all these factors increased the level of anxiety and depression.”
  • "I signed up to be a doctor. But my family didn’t choose this career path, I feel like I’ve forced the risk on them and I can’t get away from the guilt.”
  • “I am frequently tearful about all those who have died; continuously fearful of contracting Covid and secondarily infecting my family.”
  • “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."
  • “It’s difficult to get over watching people slip away without physical contact with their loved ones... it’s painful. Saying that we tried our best when you know the best won’t be good enough is excruciating.”
  • “I find myself completely at sea speaking to bereaved relatives. This kind of bereavement is not like any other I have had to deal with in my more than 30 years as a doctor.”
  • “The pandemic has made me worry about myself, my husband, my children, my parents, my patients, colleagues and business. My anxiety has been relentless and changed the way I work, my self-worth and what I can provide for my patients. There feels like no light anywhere and no relief.”
  • “At times it felt completely relentless without an end in sight. The most traumatic part was the stress on patients, and even more so, their relatives.”
  • “Everything at work has been more frustrating and exhausting – like wading through treacle.”
  • “The fatigue after wearing PPE all day cannot be underestimated. It impacts on what I physically and mentally I could do after a shift of work."
  • "This impacts on physical and mental health if you don’t have the energy to exercise or de-stress after work.”

The survey also found that 41% of doctors were suffering with depression, anxiety, stress, burnout, emotional distress or another mental health condition relating to or made worse by their work, with 29% saying this had got worse during the pandemic3.

The BMA’s own wellbeing support services have seen a 40% increase in use over the last three months4, including from those who are feeling anxious about going to work to face unknown situations.

The BMA is calling for more support for doctors suffering with poor mental health and wellbeing. The association says that a long-term strategy that protects and maintains the physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing of the workforce must be a top priority for the NHS, lasting beyond any interim Covid-19 support5.

Dr David Wrigley, BMA council deputy chair and wellbeing lead, said:

“This week has seen a sea-change with doctors coming forward in an outpouring of heart-breaking accounts that lay bare the heavy toll that Covid-19 has had on our mental health and wellbeing. From working longer hours in often unfamiliar settings and under increased pressure, to having to see a large number of patients dying day after day and attempting to console their relatives, the emotional strain doctors have been placed under is huge.

“In addition, doctors are understandably anxious about their own health and the risks posed to their loved ones. This is exacerbated over concerns that a second peak may be just around the corner.

“Throughout this pandemic doctors and healthcare workers have been painted as heroes – and the efforts that they have gone to in caring for their patients is certainly heroic. But they are not superhuman. They need to feel able to seek help and that help must be readily available.

“The effects of Covid-19 will be felt for a long time to come, both in terms of the impact on the NHS, and the long-term mental wellbeing of our healthcare staff. Even as the number of Covid-19 cases fall, doctors and their colleagues will continue to feel the pressure as the health service faces the anticipated surge in demand for non-Covid-related treatments.

“Therefore, there must be proper support available to all NHS staff not only during the Covid-19 pandemic, but beyond. Supporting the wellbeing of the health workforce must be a top priority in the long-term.”

Ends

Notes to editors

  1. 7,821 doctors across the UK answered 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?”. The BMA received 2,424 free text responses when asking doctors about the impact Covid-19 was having on their mental health and wellbeing. Further survey details will be published soon.
  2. See PDF for a selection of 50 responses.
  3. See PDF for results, which refer to the whole of the UK. Statistics broken down by English regions available here.
  4. Please find more about BMA wellbeing support services here.
  5. The BMA’s “The mental health and wellbeing of the medical workforce – now and beyond COVID-19” can be found here. Key recommendations include:
  • That wellbeing support services are equally available for all doctors working across all healthcare settings;
  • That wellbeing support services must be inclusive and accessible to all doctors working in the NHS to ensure that their needs are met;
  • That occupational health services are accessible to all those who need them across all healthcare settings and that they have the capacity to provide support when it is required;
  • To ensure that staff who present with significant mental health conditions are able to access appropriate treatment when they need to.

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