Tue. Aug 16th, 2022

A major review into the UK Government’s handling of the pandemic and its impact on the NHS, the health of the population, and doctors, has been undertaken by the BMA. The first two reports conclude that the UK Government failed in its duty of care to protect doctors and the wider healthcare workforce from avoidable harm and suffering in its management of the COVID-19 pandemic. This failure is evidenced in detail and published today by the BMA.

The reports, part of a series of five, are the most comprehensive accounts of the lived experiences of doctors throughout the pandemic, collated from thousands of doctors across the UK and in London, including those who were on the frontline during COVID-19. They also draw upon real-time surveys over the past two years, as well as formal testimonies, data and evidence sessions from stakeholders. Page after page details the devastating impact of the pandemic on medical professionals as individuals, and on the NHS, showing mistake after mistake – errors of judgment and policy made by the UK Government – which amount to a failure of a duty of care to the workforce .

In what is believed to be the first documented account of its kind, doctors from across the UK have spoken out about their own experiences during the pandemic, recounting their fears and anxieties as well as laying bare the shortages of PPE, a lack of timely and adequate risk assessments, and the huge impact on their mental and physical health.

The reports, which will also form part of the BMA’s submission to the UK COVID-19 Public Inquiry, make a series of recommendations about lessons which must be learned as well as presenting evidence of where things went wrong.

BMA London regional council chair, Dr Kevin O’Kane said:

“Given the enormous efforts that doctors and health care workers in London have gone to throughout the pandemic and the enormous toll it has taken, the findings of these reports are hugely significant.

“In gathering this information, the BMA has committed to ensuring there is vital evidence of perhaps one of the most traumatic chapters in NHS history, with a view to ensuring that the Government does not make the same grave mistakes again.

“We know that doctors in London were working tirelessly, in very challenging circumstances, at times without the appropriate PPE. Working as a consultant myself, I was able to see first-hand the tremendous efforts that staff went to having to adapt the delivery of care to ensure patients received treatment in the face of enormous demand. Yet despite the best efforts of staff, as these reports show, this Government failed doctors and healthcare workers in London as it did across England.

“As a result of COVID-19, many doctors in this region have or continue to suffer with anxiety, burnout and ongoing stress as they worked through unbelievably harrowing times.

“The BMA is determined that the voices of doctors in the region and across the country are heard and will be presenting these findings as evidence in the public covid inquiry so that doctors and healthcare staff do not have to endure the same failings again.”

Key recommendations for governments from the reports include:

UK and devolved governments should continue to carry out pandemic preparedness exercises for the most likely types of infections and must act on the lessons learned from these exercises and the COVID-19 pandemic, identifying key themes such as PPE stockpiling, testing, and public health capacity .
Public health systems should be resourced and funded to have adequate contact tracing capacity and be able to rapidly scale up testing for future variants or pandemics.
The UK Government needs to maintain an adequate rotating stockpile of suitable PPE and have plans to quickly scale up procurement and manufacturing if required.
General wellbeing support including timely and accessible occupational health assessments and support to access psychological support services must be made available to staff at all levels across all health services, with specific support also offered to ensure staff can recover from the pressure of delivering care during a pandemic .
The need for a continuous and transparent assessment of workforce shortages and future staffing requirement to ensure health services and public health systems are better prepared to deal with crises.
Improve capital investment, modernize physical infrastructure and improve ventilation of the NHS estate.
To mitigate inequity in the future, mechanisms must be introduced to make the experience of working in the NHS less variable by background or protected characteristic.
Today’s reports also contain new qualitative and quantitative research conducted by the BMA asking doctors about their experiences in several areas.

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