BMA chair urges GPs to be open about mental health amid COVID-19 pressure

GPs must be open about mental health concerns and seek help if they need it as COVID-19 drives up pressure on the workforce, the BMA chair has warned.

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul (Photo: JH Lancy)
BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul (Photo: JH Lancy)

Speaking at a Doctors in Distress webinar this week, Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the pandemic had 'exacerbated pre-existing mental health issues' among doctors, with GPs working long hours and becoming isolated.

Dr Nagpaul revealed that calls to the BMA’s mental health helpline had risen by 40% in June as he argued the health system ‘had not got the culture right’ - explaining that doctors were worried to speak out about their mental health issues.

The BMA chair has called on NHS England to prioritise investment in wellbeing to support doctors and improve patient care warning it was both a ‘moral and economic’ imperative.

Mental health

BMA polling in August indicated that more than half of GPs are experiencing work-related mental health problems, with 38% of all respondents saying their condition had worsened during the pandemic.

GP responses to the same question in July found that 43% of GPs overall were experiencing a work-related mental health problem. A total of 29% of all respondents said their condition had worsened during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, a survey conducted by pressure group Doctors Association UK (DAUK) found that two in five GPs are considering qutting due to the impact of the pandemic on their mental health.

Dr Nagpaul encouraged GPs to speak out about their mental health as the workforce continues to feel the pressure of the pandemic.

COVID-19 effect

He said: ‘Doctors are no different to the general population, we’re not actually immune from mental ill health and yet very few doctors will openly speak about their mental illness… they fear the consequences of speaking out.

‘COVID has not put a new dimension on this, but it has exacerbated and added to pre-existing issues. That's not surprising when you put together factors such as doctors changing their hours, leaving their homes to work in hospitals and being afraid of their own mortality.

‘If we are to address improving wellbeing, we have to address the environment doctors are working in. Of course not all pressures that doctors face are caused by the workplace, but the environment that we work in adds to that problem.’

The BMA chair argued that NHS England had to buy into wellbeing in order to realise change around approaches to mental health.

Improving patient care

‘Improving wellbeing in doctors, or rather, removing distress isn't just the right thing to do morally for doctors, but it impacts on patient care. Our thought processes, our ability to actually digest information - it's been shown that it impacts on our ability to be competent doctors.

‘So I think there is a real calling now to see wellbeing as an investment by the NHS, and investment in healthcare practitioners to be able to perform better - you would have less sickness and greater productivity. There is a very strong economic argument, let alone a moral argument.

‘We need to make sure that culture in the NHS changes - we certainly have not got it right at the moment. And that's probably one of the key challenges we have.’

GP leaders recently warned NHS chiefs not to underestimate pressure on general practice as it prepares to deliver the largest flu campaign in NHS history in a bid to prevent a major flu outbreak coinciding with a possible second wave of COVID-19.

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