Two fifths of doctors suffering burnout or depression during COVID-19 outbreak

More than two fifths of doctors say they are suffering from burnout, depression or anxiety amid the coronavirus pandemic, as long hours and concerns around protective equipment take their toll, a BMA survey shows.

In a poll of 6,126 UK doctors, just over 4,500 responded to questions in the survey about their mental health. Over 2,000 (44%) admitted to experiencing burnout out or suffering from depression relating to or made worse by their work.

More than half of the polls respondents respondents (52%) said they did not feel supported by the government and were not confident that everything was being done by ministers to keep patients and doctors safe.

Doctors at risk

The results come as the BMA again warned the government over a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff, with the group saying ‘far too many doctors’ were putting themselves at ‘considerable risk.

Four GPs have now died from coronavirus, while the Guardian has reported that at least 100 NHS staff may have lost their lives - the majority from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups.

Over 90% of the doctors responding to the BMA poll said that they felt supported by immediate colleagues during the pandemic, with 70% saying they felt very supported by peers.

Some 82% of doctors said they felt supported by managers in their place of work. A lower number (60%) said that they felt supported by management in the local NHS.

'Continuous stress'

In testimonies provided to the BMA, one doctor said that ‘we are under immense and continuous stress’. While another doctor said: ‘What has been most distressing is seeing nurses break down uncontrollably in tears, knowing there is nothing you can do.’

BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the ‘deeply disturbing’ survey results showed the pressures on doctors working through the pandemic.

‘Doctors are working within exceptional challenges in fighting this virus, working long hours looking after unprecedented numbers of seriously sick patients and with relentless increases in deaths daily,' he said.

'It is unacceptable that many are being forced into a corner as they face acute shortages of vital personal protective equipment, particularly given the increasing numbers of healthcare workers themselves dying with the virus.

Emotional toll

'It is unthinkable that this would not take an emotional and mental toll, and we know that Covid will be around for many more months yet.

‘Doctors and all healthcare staff desperately need government support now. That means ensuring each healthcare worker has access to and is fitted with the correct PPE, so they can protect patients.

'It also means properly recognising the incredible sacrifices our healthcare workers and their families are making. Not in words but in action,' he added.

Earlier this month NHS England launched a new mental health hotline offering support and advice through the COVID-19 outbreak. This allows doctors to speak with thousands of trained volunteers, who can give psychological support.

Meanwhile, NHS Practitioner Health is running a twice-daily online ‘Doctors Common Room’ which provides a space for doctors and dentists to connect, think and reflect on work and general life during the pandemic.

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