Dr Lewis Morrison, Chair of BMA Scotland said today the effect of the coronavirus crisis on NHS staff is likely to be felt long into the future.
The warning comes as a BMA survey of 1,351 Scottish doctors shows nearly 40 per cent said they were currently suffering from depression, anxiety, stress, burnout, emotional distress or other mental health condition relating to or made worse by their work. A quarter of the doctors who responded said that was directly due to the impact of Covid-19.
One in five (20 per cent) said they were not able to access the support for wellbeing they would like.
Dr Morrison said that for this and many other reasons no-one should expect the NHS to return to a comprehensive programme of more routine work at “the flick of a switch” and called for the process to be carefully managed, with a need to balance patient needs with the wellbeing of staff.
He 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 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.”
Dr Morrison said steps had been taken in terms of staff wellbeing through the local introduction of wellbeing spaces, the removal of parking charges and the provision of hot food for medical staff.
He added: “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 the welcome support services that are in place must be properly organised, communicated and continued long term.”
Commenting on the concerns of the impact of Covid-19 on long term clinical demand, Dr Morrison said: “While we have focussed on the immediate challenges of the pandemic, and rightly so – many have expressed concern about the impact on those with other conditions and our ability to care for them.
Once again I should emphasise our NHS is open, and if you have any concerns you should seek help. Equally, it is not realistic to expect the health service, or the people who work in it to flick a switch and return to normal. The impact of Covid-19 is clearly going to be felt long into future.
Tory Health Spokesperson, Miles Briggs, said: “These figures show the extent of the pressure Doctors are under during the Covid-19 outbreak and the level of stress that is being caused. Scottish Conservatives have been calling for investment to support our Doctors and NHS staff’s mental wellbeing. That is why in the Scottish Parliament I have led calls for NHS health boards to put in place better support services to look after those who look after us.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The physical and mental health and wellbeing of all NHS staff, including doctors, is a key priority at this challenging time. We recognise the importance of ensuring that appropriate practical and emotional support is available to everyone in Scotland who is providing care.
“As the BMA highlights, a range of activity is underway to support staff wellbeing to fight fatigue and stress, such as access to temporary accommodation and improved rest spaces and we are working with a range of stakeholders, including the BMA, to make sure such measures are effective.
“We are also working to ensure that appropriate services are available to any staff members who might require more specialist support and care over the coming months.”