Doctors in England have little or no confidence in the NHS being able to cope this winter, according to a poll by the British Medical Association (BMA), amid building stress and anxiety about dealing with a second wave of the pandemic.
The BMA survey of more than 6,500 doctors in England found more than 70% of staff were either “not at all” or “not very” confident about the abilities of services in community settings to cope, and 65% felt the same about their own local healthcare service’s ability to cope.
The survey also found 65% of doctors were “quite or extremely” anxious about work in the coming months and more than 40% felt their levels of stress, anxiety and emotional distress had got worse since the pandemic began.
Around one in five doctors said they were seeing more Covid patients than they had at the same point during the first wave and 28% felt non-Covid demand was now also higher than before the pandemic.
The survey also revealed there remains a backlog of millions of patients who had not received treatment during the first peak, and with only around a quarter of doctors reporting that they had started to tackle their backlog.
BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul said: “Doctors are doing their best to keep patients safe, with seven in 10 are saying they are providing remote consultations to prevent the spread of infection in hospitals and GP practices. But with this work often taking longer and proving more tiring, it’s clear that over-work and under-capacity is taking its toll on the NHS, its workforce and its patients.”
At the same time, demand for primary care services is soaring, the BMA has said, with GPs completing millions of additional face-to-face appointments despite the challenges to working practices posed by Covid-19.
GP appointment figures for September concluded there were 6.5 million more appointments in total than in August, including 4.7 million more face-to-face appointments and 1.5 million additional telephone consultations. There were 5.5 million fewer in-person appointments in September than the same month in 2019, it added.
The latest BMA Covid tracker survey section aimed specifically at general practice had also found 46% of GPs saying they were affected by depression, anxiety, stress or burnout resulting from work and that their mental health was worse now than before the start of the pandemic.
Nearly three-quarters (73%) told the survey they were “quite or extremely anxious” about working during the autumn and winter months, while 64% described their levels of fatigue or exhaustion from working as higher than normal.
Separately, the BMA in October – so ahead of this month’s lockdown in England – called for the wearing of face masks to be made mandatory in all offices and working environments, unless a worker was working alone.