The effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on our NHS and its staff is likely to be felt long into the future, according to the Chair of BMA Scotland after a survey showed one in four doctors are suffering from extra stress or burnout.

The survey of 1,351 Scottish doctors shows nearly 40% of doctors said that they were currently suffering from depression, anxiety, stress, burnout, emotional distress or other mental health condition relating to or made worse by their work. A quarter of the doctors who responded said that was directly due to the impact of Covid-19.

Dr Lewis Morrison said that for this and many other reasons no-one should expect the NHS to return to a comprehensive programme of more routine work at “the flick of a switch” and called for the process to be carefully managed, with a need to balance patient needs with the wellbeing of staff.

The BMA survey also showed that one in five (20%) said they were not able to access the support for wellbeing they would like and when asked about their main concerns, nearly 50% said it was the long term impact on clinical demand, while a quarter said it was the long term impact on them of new working arrangements.

Further improvements in position on PPE was shown – with 36% saying overall, they felt fully protected at work an increase of 14% since the BMA’s last survey. However, 56% say they only feel partly protected, showing that concerns clearly remain.

Not realistic to expect to flick a switch and go back to normal

Dr Morrison said: “The NHS has so far coped incredibly well with the biggest challenge it has faced since its inception. This is in no small way down to the incredible commitment, determination and sacrifice of its staff. But this is taking an inevitable toll. Each and every death as a result of Covid is an incredibly sad event for so many families, and our sympathy and thoughts are with them.

“But each death, and the cumulative effect of so many deaths, also has a major impact on the teams caring for them in the community and in hospitals. I am in no way surprised that a quarter of doctors say their mental health is suffering, and that is clearly worrying.

“In some ways, we have taken some steps forward during the pandemic in terms of staff wellbeing – in particular through the local introduction of wellbeing spaces, the removal of parking charges and provision of hot food. That such basic measures took a pandemic to be put in place emphasises the unacceptable place that we came from, and that we cannot retreat from these improvements as Covid-19 hopefully retreats. For those of us in the NHS, if there is a silver lining to this cloud it’s the proof that the wellbeing of staff must be at the heart of what is done."

He added that there will need to be a carefully managed process of returning to more normal service. This will need to be done with the close involvement of representatives from across professions and balance clinical priorities, demand for care and the need to protect staff wellbeing.