The BMA has warned the NHS will need more resources if it is to vaccinate the public effectively after a new survey has revealed the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on health staff in the UK.
Carried out by the British Medical Association (BMA), the BMA tracker survey of doctors in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, has shown how a year of unparalleled pressure from working in a global pandemic has left healthcare professionals in the UK understaffed and pushed to the brink of exhaustion.
The impact of COVID-19
New figures from the survey show that 58% of doctors are now suffering from some form of anxiety or depression, with 46% saying their condition had worsened since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
67% of doctors also say that current levels of fatigue and exhaustion are higher than normal as they tackle a mounting second wave and a growing backlog of care, on top of the usual seasonal demand.
BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul has now issued a stark warning that the NHS needs more resources and staff if it is to remain fit for purpose and vaccinate the public effectively.
He said: “The months ahead will be as challenging, if not more so, as when the virus first peaked in April. We know from our tracker surveys that over four in ten doctors’ mental health has deteriorated during the pandemic, with many exhausted from working flat out without taking adequate leave for over ten months.
“It’s vital that the vaccination programme is delivered as fast as humanly possible, so that both health and care workers and as much of the population can be immunised to relieve our health service from the scourge of COVID-19. This requires proper resourcing of staff, including GPs and primary care teams, who need to be given the space and time to vaccinate and protect the nation.”
The doctors’ union fears that the current level of strain brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic could have a lasting impact on workforce numbers as 47% of doctors saying they are now more likely to work fewer hours in the future, and 27% of doctors saying they are now more likely to take early retirement. Another 27% noted in the survey that they are now more likely to take a career break.
With an existing shortage of more than 8,000 consultants and the number of fully qualified GPs continuing to fall, this reduction in staff cannot be afforded says the BMA.
The BMA is also demanding that those currently working in the health service are properly protected against COVID-19 – both through vaccination and adequate PPE.
Dr Nagpaul said that we must never go back to an NHS which is under-staffed, under-resourced and under-prepared for surges in demand, let alone a pandemic: “This year the Chancellor must deliver on his promise to ‘give the NHS whatever it needs’. Ultimately, 2021 needs to be a year where doctors feel valued and rewarded for serving the nation in a caring, supportive culture of equal opportunity.