Your BMA: sorting out the mess

BMA representative body chair Helena McKeown and her deputy Latifa Patel set out how they take action for members – and the success following their debut column

Location: UK
Published: Friday 12 February 2021
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After our first column was published last month a junior doctor working in a hospital contacted us to ask for help.

His trust has shut down the juniors’ mess – leaving junior doctors with nowhere to go apart from busy hospital wards, feeling like they are being punished despite working beyond the call of duty during the pandemic and increasingly worried about their wellbeing.

We contacted his regional junior doctors committee chair who has spoken to the junior doctor local negotiating committee rep at the trust and the BMA’s industrial relations officer, and negotiations on reopening the mess are now taking place.

Last month, we asked you to tell us about the issues that matter to you so we could look to represent you to the very best of our abilities – and this sort of case is exactly why we need to hear from you. Please come to us – we will listen and we will either help you ourselves or find the right people to assist you if we can’t.

The BMA has around 160,000 members and more than 535 permanent staff. Wherever you are, from a large teaching hospital to a small, rural GP surgery, we will have someone who knows the issues in your area, who understands the needs of doctors working in your specialty and who can help. 

And we aren’t just here to listen, we are here to take action. We have the expertise and the influence to force change. We have heard stories across the country about similar issues. Doctors are reporting the closure of their messes and the removal of much-needed and deserved benefits given during the first wave of the pandemic such as free parking, refreshments and additional well-being and rest facilities. 

This is not acceptable. 

In 2018 the BMA published the fatigue and facilities charter. It was adopted by trusts and came with £10m of funds shared out between hospitals to provide proper rest facilities.

The charter places a responsibility on hospital trusts to provide appropriate rest areas 24 hours a day and seven days a week allowing staff to nap during breaks. We are deeply concerned – and will take action – where trusts have adopted this charter and received these funds but closed their hospital’s doctors’ mess. 

The reality is that these issues are even more important now than ever before – with the COVID-19 pandemic stretching staff and services across the country. Doctors across the profession are working under unprecedented pressure and putting themselves at the greatest risk to protect the public.

The BMA’s most recent tracker survey – contributed to by thousands of doctors – highlights the effects these working conditions are having. It reveals that 88 per cent of doctors feel uneasy about not being able to provide the standard of care they would like during the pandemic and more than half feel anxious about being unable to see and treat patients in appropriate times.

The survey also shows that 46 per cent of respondents are suffering from depression, anxiety, stress, burnout, emotional distress or another mental health condition relating to work or study made worse by the pandemic.

It also found that 32 per cent of doctors’ health and wellbeing was even worse than during the first wave of the pandemic and that 62 per cent are living with a level of fatigue or exhaustion higher than before the pandemic.

These are stark statistics but they’re also daily realities for doctors working on the front line of this pandemic. Our colleagues are more at risk of burnout than ever before and the harsh truth is that these working conditions make caring for patients much harder and mistakes more likely.

These working conditions leave doctors at risk of burning out and unable to work. These conditions represent a real risk of a worsened future crisis in retention of staff.

It is even more important now than ever that employers and trusts provide the facilities they are obliged to and, beyond that, treat staff with the support, care and compassion they expect to be given to patients.

As we said in our first column, last month, we want to know the issues that matter to you – whether that means worries about rest facilities and the working environment or anything else – so we can represent you to the very best of our abilities. Please get in touch.