One in three doctors feel as though their organisation is not at all prepared for winter, according to a survey by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP).

The survey, which took place between 30 September and 4 October, also found that 27% of doctors feel personally unprepared and nearly two thirds feel tired or exhausted.

The survey’s results follow on from a year of immense pressure on healthcare professionals who have had little respite since the beginning of the pandemic.

As healthcare staff now prepare to deal with a rise in cases of flu and other winter viruses on top of the backlog of care, it is clear many are feeling anxious about meeting patients’ needs as winter fast approaches.

“Morale in the workforce is at an all-time low”

Of the 866 respondents, 36.5% said they feel demoralised and 32.5% described feeling pessimistic. Comments made during the survey further reflect these gloomy outlooks, with one respondent writing: “Morale in the workforce is at an all-time low”, while another wrote: “Can’t see an end to it.”

Another said: “Winter is coming - uncertain times. If not prepared it can go pear-shaped and end up in a bad way. Our region is already feeling the pinch of increased numbers at the front end and struggling with social care.

“We remain optimistic and proud to be a part of NHS in fighting past, present and future waves of pressures and keep patients safe as much as humanly possible. I only hope government recognises and re-enforces our workforce and supports us.”

Calls to expand the number of medical school places and commit to a workforce plan

The College is now urging the government to expand the number of medical school places and “commit to an open and transparent workforce plan that not only serves to ensure there are enough medical staff to match demand for care in the long-term, but which will also provide the hope that healthcare staff desperately need.”

The RCP have also signed a briefing that proposes an amendment to the Health and Care Bill. The amendment would see the Secretary of State publish independently verified assessments of current and future workforce numbers every two years, strengthening work force planning and ensuring staff crises are avoided in future.

Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: “There are no two ways about it - it’s an incredibly difficult time to be working in medicine. Some things, such as embracing flexible working, will help to improve morale now, while increasing the size of the workforce will ensure that in future, staff never feel as under pressure and undervalued as they do today.

“We need a commitment from government to produce regular, independent and published assessments of future workforce requirements across the NHS and social care. This will give us much-needed long-term projections of workforce needs so that enough staff are being trained up to meet those requirements.”