Your BMA: watch your wellbeing

What do you do when you’re on leave but the work emails keep mounting up? We need to protect ourselves and support each other to take proper breaks

Location: UK
Published: Friday 15 October 2021
Latifa Patel

I have spent the last three months, working with a team of BMA staff and elected members, organising our annual representative meeting.

Despite the expected minor technical glitches, I am pleased to say this year’s ARM was a success and fulfilled its primary and most important objective of providing a voice and a listening ear to BMA members’ concerns.

The most crucial function of the ARM is to allow those attending (also known as the representative body) to discuss, challenge, debate and vote on important issues and form policy which instructs us, as a trade union and medical association, to work on our members’ behalf.

Following the meeting I took a period of annual leave, not only because I needed it physically and mentally, but also because this ARM was the first time I had had to spend an extended period of time without my infant daughter, who needed my undivided attention.

Despite being on annual leave, I continued to respond to text messages, phone calls and emails about work. Although I tried really hard to put it out of my mind, seeing the little red counter on my phone grow as the number of unread emails piled up was not pleasant.

These emails, I knew, would have to be read and responded to at some point, so my options were to read them a little at a time while on leave, or to face a mountain of admin upon my return to work. Ultimately, I chose to respond to messages a little at a time while still on leave, a habit that I’ve grown used to and one in which I know I’m not alone.

This time, however, I found that I had to confront myself with a question: ‘Are we on annual leave if we’re taking work with us?’ This question is equally applicable to our behaviour when we are at work and other members of our team are not.

When you know a colleague is on annual leave do you continue to send them emails or do you purposely exclude them so they’re not disturbed? Do you leave work for them to complete on their return or do you make an effort to ensure they return to an emotional to do list? Annual leave and rest have never been more important for our colleagues. Our members, you, continue to tell us, that your well-being is at risk.

As a system, the NHS is at risk of burnout. Now should be the time when we all prioritise rest. We should all have access to places to rest, places to reflect, to sleep, food and drink 24/7. We should all be given the time and space to take annual leave.

If you are a manager or a leader do you find yourself in a position to enable this, or do you often feel helpless in supporting your team to rest? Are you someone who has been able to switch off from work completely? Or someone, like me, who has struggled? We know our colleagues are struggling with our well-being services continuing to see a much higher demand and need for the service than they had previously.

It is all our responsibility, collectively, to ensure that the system, our NHS and every individual within it is able to rest and repair to in turn ensure that we continue to be there for our patients.

A reminder that your BMA well-being service is free to all medical students and doctors and their dependants regardless of membership status. We’re here if you need us.

And finally, thank you to all our colleagues; medical students and doctors for everything you’re doing, we know it’s hard right now. Do let us know if there is anything more we should be doing for you.

Dr Latifa Patel is interim chair of the BMA representative body