A snapshot survey of more than 6,000 doctors by the British Medical Association (BMA) shows the disturbing toll the Covid-19 pandemic and the lack of PPE are having on the sector.

More than 4,500 doctors responded to the questions around mental health that found almost a half of UK doctors (44%) are suffering from burnout, depression or anxiety amidst continuing shortage of protective supplies.

The survey also showed that more than half of doctors (51%) did not feel personally supported by the Government and confident that everything possible was being done to help them to keep patients safe, despite pledges that more PPE was being delivered to the front line.

Doctors are working in unimaginably challenging conditions

BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said that the survey showed doctors were "extremely worried, stressed and anxious".

He added: "They are working in unimaginably challenging conditions. They are looking after patients in hospitals that have been turned into Covid centres, treating patients who are now allowed visitors and are dealing with deaths they have never experienced before."

Dr Nagpaul said that doctors and healthcare workers were having to treat colleagues suffering from Covid-19 and "seeing some of them not survive. This is extremely emotionally and physically taxing and it’s taking its toll on the workforce."

The release of the survey findings comes after further concerns about continuing shortages of PPE emerged over the weekend as well as advice on the use of PPE being updated by Public Health England (PHE) on Friday 17 April.

Staff reusing equipment must be driven by science not availability

Responding to the new guidance Dr Rob Harwood, BMA consultants committee chair, challenged the new advice from PHE.

He said: “Telling staff to use aprons in the place of gowns directly contravenes both Public Health England’s previous guidance and that of the World Health Organisation. This is guidance that’s there to help keep healthcare workers and their patients, out of harms’ way.

“If it’s being proposed that staff reuse equipment, this must be demonstrably driven by science and the best evidence – rather than availability – and it absolutely cannot compromise the protection of healthcare workers.

“Too many healthcare workers have already died. More doctors and their colleagues cannot be expected to put their own lives on the line in a bid to save others, and this new advice means they could be doing just that. It’s not a decision they should have to make.”

Shipments of promised PPE delayed over weekend

A delivery of PPE from Turkey was due to arrive in the UK yesterday but had been delayed. Doctors were said to be banking on the Government’s announcement of imminent extra supplies of PPE from overseas.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said no-one in the NHS wanted to be where we now are on gowns, with a significant number of trusts reporting critically low stocks.

He added: "We have, over the last 24 hours, seen an unhelpful focus on one individual consignment coming from Turkey. We are told that this consignment is still stuck in Turkey with no certainty, at the time this comment was issued, on how many gowns, if any, will leave for the UK, when.

"Bitter experience over the last few weeks has shown that until a consignment of gowns has landed, the boxes have been checked and the equipment tested, the NHS can’t count on the gowns being available for use at the frontline.

"We understand, for example, that a consignment of 200,000 gowns that arrived from China last week actually contained only 20,000 gowns. This follows previous instances of consignments of gowns being mislabelled and failing safety tests."

Trusts are adopting a number of different approaches to address current shortages. These include concentrating the use of fluid repellent gowns in areas of highest risk such as intensive and critical care and using fluid resistant, as opposed to fluid repellent, coveralls with an additional apron, in line with the PHE advice issued on Friday.

Hopson added: "Trust leaders have asked us to publicly thank the fire and police services, vets, local councils, DIY stores, builders’ merchants and others who have donated their supply of gowns and coveralls, many of them fluid repellent, over the last few days. For example one trust we spoke to this afternoon had secured 2,000 fluid repellent gowns from a local vet supply firm and another had secured 3,000 washable gowns from a local business that they were looking to adapt for NHS use."