‘Huge swathes’ of doctors could quit following pandemic without mental health support

The government, NHS and private healthcare providers need to develop a plan to support the mental wellbeing and support of doctors following the Covid-19 pandemic, or risk seeing “huge swathes” leaving the profession, a medical indemnity insurance body has said.

Medical Protection has said this should include specialist support for those struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), alongside measures to ensure the system has capacity so those needing treatment or time to recuperate can be supported without adding to staff shortages.

Central government investment would also be needed to maintain and expand local initiatives such as counselling services, ensure steps are taken towards every healthcare organisation having a dedicated person responsible for staff wellbeing, and fund fast-tracked research into the impact of the pandemic on doctors’ mental wellbeing.

Dr Pallavi Bradshaw, medicolegal lead, risk prevention at Medical Protection, said: “Adrenaline will still be carrying many healthcare workers through this pandemic and helping them to cope despite the exhaustion and tragedy they may be facing.  It is when the crisis truly recedes and there is time to reflect that the accumulated stress and trauma may surface – this is the time doctors will be most at risk and need support.

“The government, NHS and private healthcare providers should be planning for this time now. A range of support will be needed; for most this will be the biggest health crisis in their careers, with countless patients and colleagues lost. Some will experience grief or moral injury, some may have unresolved anger over issues such as PPE supply, or distress and fear of reprisal at being unable to treat patients with non Covid-19 conditions. Others may suffer with PTSD, and many are at risk of burnout against a backdrop of an already burnt out workforce.

“A nationwide funded plan will ensure those doctors who need specialist support can access it when they need it most,” Dr Bradshaw added.

The call has come as, separately, the Royal College of General Practitioners has warned of a “huge surge” in patients presenting at GP surgeries with PTSD because of Covid-19.

It added it had as a result been reworked learning materials originally developed to help GPs provide targeted support to military veterans returning from war zones to create specific resources to help patients come to terms with the pandemic and its aftermath.

Last month, psychiatrists and psychologists working with the Covid Trauma Response Working Group said people who were seriously ill with coronavirus and needed hospital treatment should be screened for PTSD and have regular check-ups for at least a year.

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