Half of doctors in a recent survey say they are not confident in their ability to meet patient demand in either their practice or hospital department, once normal NHS services resumed.

In a BMA sample survey,  4,000 UK doctors were asked how long it would take to clear the additional patients created during the pandemic. Of this 66% said three to 12 months or longer for elective procedures, 65% and 55% said the same for outpatient appointments and diagnostics respectively.

Nearly half (43%) of respondents said they believed it would take between three to 12 months or longer or never for GP consultations to return to normal, with 59% saying the same for outpatient appointments, with 61% and 47% for elective procedures and for diagnostics respectively.

The BMA said this shows the sheer scale of the challenge for the NHS in the coming months, and the anxiety and concern felt by frontline doctors who are exhausted as they look ahead to what will likely be one of the most challenging times of their careers.

Half of doctors not confident in managing second Covid-19 spike

BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul said: "Staff are being told to begin to return to “business as usual” – but they clearly have very little confidence this is achievable any time soon. At the same time, they are really fearful of how the health service will cope if a second wave hits. A second wave would be devastating for the health service, especially if it arrived in winter and amid a potential flu outbreak."

Other findings in the survey found that half of all doctors said they were not confident about managing demand in the event of another spike in infections.

According to national guidelines 92% of patients should be treated within 18 weeks of a referral by their GP, with the BMA finding that this average had fallen below 50% in a number of English regions.

Dr Nagpaul added: "This pandemic has brought sharply into focus how underfunded and understaffed the health service has been in recent years.

"They must produce a clear strategy of how we can manage this increased demand, working with clinicians to prioritise those patients most in need of care, while at the same time being able to continue treating people who are still suffering with Covid-19. And crucially, doctors do not want patients avoiding the health service and risking getting much sicker as a result."