New research published by the Medical Defence Union (MDU) has found that 73% of medical professionals feel stressed and/or anxious on a weekly basis.

The findings were based on the responses of 206 medical members, and reveal the intense pressure healthcare workers have been under during the pandemic.

The vast majority (73%) of respondents feel that their stress and anxiety levels are worse now compared to the beginning of the pandemic. This compares to 69% of respondents in May 2020.

A lack of time to spend with patients is thought to contribute to these high levels of stress 

The survey also found that the majority (57%) of respondents believed they had a poor work/life balance; around half (47%) would not feel confident in raising a matter regarding their health and wellbeing; and 44% often perform their role even when they are not feeling fit or well.

One of the predominant causes of stress appears to be a lack of time to spend with patients, with just 53% of respondents reporting they had enough time to devote to patients.

Despite being strapped for time, 89% of respondents feel they are making a positive difference to the lives of their patients.

Although the respondents were fairly unlikely to raise concerns about their health and wellbeing with their GP (44%), they were more likely to lean on their colleagues (55%) or family members (85%) for support.

In fact, 89% of respondents reported feeling supported by their colleagues, with 82% saying they had a positive relationship with those they work with.

More than a fifth of medical students do not feel at all prepared for starting their foundation year training 

Additionally, the pandemic has disrupted medical students across the globe. In a separate study of 188 medical members, 41% said they felt unprepared for beginning foundation year (FY1) training. 

In total, more than a fifth (22%) of respondents did not feel at all prepared for starting their FY1 training; and no respondents felt they were very well prepared.

A further 30% said they were concerned about adapting to a new workplace, while 20% were most concerned about dealing with challenging patients.

Medics must seek objective medical advice if they are struggling 

Dr Catherine Wills, deputy head of advisory services at the MDU said: "As a result of the pandemic, many medical professionals continue to face enormous stresses. During the first and second waves, many faced increased workloads and/or were working in an unfamiliar field of practice with new challenges: – not only dealing with a new disease but managing seriously ill and dying patients who could not have their relatives with them.

"Many medics have been unwell themselves and may be dealing with long Covid now. They may have been bereaved of colleagues or loved-ones. Additionally, there are countless other sources of stress for medics during the pandemic such as worrying about patients with other conditions who might not have come forward for care, or did not have the usual options for care available.

"Consequently, the pandemic is an extremely challenging time for medical professionals and, as such, it is crucial for them to look after their own health as well as looking after their patients."

The MDU are urging medical professionals to make the most of their support network to help them deal with stress. They are also advising medics to seek objective medical advice if they are suffering with anxiety, depression or any other medical condition, rather than relying on their own judgment.

For more resources about health and wellbeing support for medical professionals, please visit the MDU’s website.