Health worker seated, head in hands, struggling with their situation

Quarter of doctors have sought mental health support during pandemic

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has revealed that 1 in 4 doctors sought mental health support during the pandemic, having faced one of the toughest health crises of the modern era.

Revealed as part of the RCP’s eighth survey of its fellows and members, the data showed some of the challenges and pressures placed on frontline doctors by the pandemic and the significant toll it is taking, even despite recent positive news, such as around vaccinations.

Of the quarter of frontline doctors who sought help, more sought informal mental health support compared with formal mental health support from their employer, GP or external services - though only by a 9% disparity (19% of all respondents said they sought informal support, compared to 10% of the total seeking formal).

A third of doctors did report feeling supported (35%) and determined (37%) however this was offset by a majority (64%) feeling tired or exhausted, and nearly half describing themselves as worried (48%).

Burnout has been a huge challenge to the health service during the pandemic, particularly with the already stretched NHS workforce under significant pressure from the virus itself. Under extremely difficult circumstances, many frontline health professionals - from doctors through to healthcare assistants - have reported feeling their work during the pandemic as having taken its toll on their own health and mental wellbeing.

According to the RCP survey, despite 85% of doctors reporting having had the first dose of a vaccine, only 16% have had both doses.

Over half (58%) are either very worried or slightly worried about having to wait 12 weeks for their next jab, an issue which has caused considerable anxiety within the profession.

Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: “There is no way to dress it up – it is pretty awful at the moment in the world of medicine. Hospital admissions are at the highest ever level, staff are exhausted, and although there is light at the end of the tunnel, that light seems a long way away.

“I am extremely concerned about the mental health of frontline doctors, who may be suffering from burnout and a feeling of not being valued. I'm not sure that before the pandemic many physicians would have contemplated that they might need formal mental health support in their career.

“Staff will be in desperate need of a break and will need specific time away if they’re to be at their best after the pandemic.

“Doctors have demonstrated remarkable resilience throughout the pandemic, working under the most challenging conditions the NHS has ever faced, but they can’t continue working this way forever.

“Workforce shortages need to be urgently addressed post-pandemic if we’re ever to reduce the immense pressure on NHS staff and ensure that they are prepared and supported to get the NHS back on an even keel.”

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NHE May/June 2024

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