Work pressures, rising demand and staffing issues were the main causes of doctors’ poor mental wellbeing
“Pressures across NHS secondary, primary and social care, and the haemorrhaging of experienced staff at every level make the job increasingly impossible and fear of serious incidents, things going wrong, a sense of lurching from crisis to crisis with little or no respite, is taking its toll." GP, quoted in MPS survey
Almost half the doctors in the UK say that their mental health is worse now than it was during the pandemic, a survey has found.
The Medical Protection Society (MPS) surveyed 861 doctors, and found that 46% said they felt psychologically worse off than during the pandemic. They cited work pressure, rising demand and NHS staffing issues as the main reasons. More than four in 10 (43%) said that not being able to do the right thing for patients was impacting on their mental health, while 47% said they were concerned about the impact of burnout on patient safety. Similarly, 40% said that working long hours was affecting their mental wellbeing.
Three-quarters of those surveyed did not believe the government is doing enough to help health care workers when it comes to mental health, while 43% said their concerns about their own wellbeing are making them reconsider their future career.
Of the doctors surveyed, 271 were GPs. Nearly half of these said that referral waiting list times, along with the concern about patients having to wait, was having an impact on their mental health. Others cited exhaustion (55%) and the inability to take breaks to eat and drink (50%) as factors having an adverse effect on their mental health.
Among the GPs, 82% said staff shortages make it difficult for them to take time off to deal with mental health issues.
One of the participants in the survey, a GP, said: “Pressures across NHS secondary, primary and social care, and the haemorrhaging of experienced staff at every level make the job increasingly impossible and fear of serious incidents, things going wrong, a sense of lurching from crisis to crisis with little or no respite, is taking its toll.
“I am considering early retirement – far earlier than planned. I do think this will be a sad loss both for myself and the NHS services as I have considerable experience and expertise. But I have my health, wellbeing and family to consider also.”
In 2021, NHS England announced it was setting up mental health hubs to support staff who were experiencing stress as a result of the demands of the pandemic. MPS, however, is concerned that limited funding allocation could threaten the sustainability of these 40 hubs at a time when they may be needed most.
Professor Dame Jane Dacre, MPS president, said that the hubs offered “desperately needed support to staff” experiencing problems such as anxiety and depression.
She added: “Demand for support with mental health issues is still high. Nearly half of our members tell us their mental health is worse now than it was during the pandemic, and a similar amount are considering their future in healthcare due to mental health concerns.
“We are also seeing more staff absent from work due to mental ill health than ever before.
‘It therefore seems absolutely the wrong time to scale back mental health provision for healthcare staff and risk the sustainability of an established network of hubs that are crucial in supporting mental wellbeing and retention.”
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said that problems such as staff shortages, operational pressures and demand on healthcare services “take a huge toll on the psychological wellbeing of staff across hospital, ambulance, mental health and community services”.
She added: “Trust leaders are deeply worried about this and are doing all they can do support staff and cover sickness absences, but their efforts will only go so far without national support.
“A lack of government funding has led to the recent widespread closure of wellbeing hubs, leaving many NHS staff without access to crucial metal health services.
“Staff wellbeing is the lifeblood of the health service and helps ensure the best patient care. Proper government funding and support for it must therefore be non-negotiable.”
The stress experienced by doctors as a result of increasing demand on the NHS, long waiting lists and staff shortages is significant, and continuing to worsen It is not surprising that so many NHS doctors now feel burnt out by the pressures they are experiencing. The mental health and wellbeing hubs launched by NHS England were at least a step in the right direction, so it is hugely disappointing to see that some are now closing because of a lack of funding. The hubs are needed more than ever – if we want doctors to be able to care effectively for their patients, then we need to make sure that doctors themselves are well looked after and supported.