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05.05.20

BMA Scotland warns not to underestimate future Covid-19 impact

Fears over potential additional stress or burnout on staff due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak could have effects likely to be left long into the future, the Chair of BMA Scotland has warned.

The warning was issued after a British Medical Association (BMA) survey of 1,351 Scottish doctors showed as many as 1 in 4 are suffering such difficulties as a result of the demands of the pandemic.

Dr Lewis Morrison, Chair of BMA Scotland, said for this and many other reasons nobody should be disillusioned to the idea the NHS will return to normal, with a comprehensive programme of routine work and procedures, at “the flick of a switch”.

Instead, Dr Morrison called for a carefully managed process to ease the healthcare service back into its previous programme of work, with careful balancing of the needs of patients and the wellbeing of staff.

The survey by the BMA found in all, nearly 40% of doctors were currently suffering from depression, anxiety, stress, burnout, emotional distress or other mental health conditions relating to or made worse by their work. A quarter of those who responded said it was directly due to the impact of Covid-19.

One in five said they were not able to access the support for wellbeing they would like, while when asked about their main concerns nearly 50% said it was the long term impact on clinical demand and a quarter said it was the long term impact new working arrangements would have on them.

Dr Morrison said: “The NHS has so far coped incredibly well with the biggest challenge it has faced since its inception. This is in no small way down to the incredible commitment, determination and sacrifice of its staff.

“But this is taking an inevitable toll. Each and every death as a result of COVID is an incredibly sad event for so many families, and our sympathy and thoughts are with them.

“But each death, and the cumulative effect of so many deaths, also has a major impact on the teams caring for them in the community and in hospitals. I am in no way surprised that a quarter of doctors say their mental health is suffering, and that is clearly worrying.

“I am also sure this reflects ongoing concerns about PPE – despite the welcome improvement in supply. Even the process of working while wearing PPE is incredibly stressful, particularly when you know PPE reduces but does not eliminate your risk of infection.

“In some ways, we have taken some steps forward during the pandemic in terms of staff wellbeing – in particular through the local introduction of wellbeing spaces, the removal of parking charges and provision of hot food. That such basic measures took a pandemic to be put in place emphasises the unacceptable place that we came from, and that we cannot retreat from these improvements as Covid-19 hopefully retreats. For those of us in the NHS, if there is a silver lining to this cloud it’s the proof that the wellbeing of staff must be at the heart of what is done.

“Equally we must make sure that the welcome support services that are in place must be properly organised, communicated and continued long term. Access must be easy and tailored to the needs of the healthcare professions.”

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