As we approach the first anniversary of lockdown, the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has launched Recover, rebuild, renew, which looks at the effect of the pandemic on the medical workforce in Wales.
Around 90% of all hospital in-patients with COVID-19 are cared for by physicians, and the past 12 months have put immense strain on these doctors. Thousands of clinicians and care workers are exhausted; some will be close to burnout. A recent survey of RCP members found that almost one-third had sought mental health support during the pandemic.
In the RCP’s 2019–2020 annual census of consultant physicians in Wales, 40% of respondents reported daily or weekly rota gaps, and 23% said this causes significant patient safety problems in their hospital. Almost three-quarters of respondents in Wales said their work-life balance had been negatively affected by rota gaps and consultant vacancies.
Hospital doctors are now calling for the next Welsh government to increase the number of doctors in the medical workforce, invest in community medicine and social care, and develop a cross-government strategy to tackle health inequalities.
Dr Olwen Williams, RCP vice president for Wales said: “The pandemic has thrown the NHS workforce crisis into sharp relief. Long hours, rota gaps, unprecedented stress: many doctors have been living on the edge for more than a year now. It’s not enough just to offer resilience training to individuals; we must change the wider system. The NHS must be a better employer by offering flexible working arrangements, investing in diagnostics and new technologies, improving recruitment, and training more doctors.”
Ms Roshna Roy, an undergraduate medical student at Cardiff University said: “COVID-19 has shown us that the link between deprivation and chronic illness has never been so obvious. I will graduate as a doctor in 2023, but before that happens, this is a clear opportunity for the next Welsh government to prioritise tackling health inequalities by developing a cross-government strategy. You can’t separate the effects of poor housing, education, healthcare, or low income. They have to be considered together.”
Dr Emma Rengasamy, foundation programme trainee doctor said: “The last year has been a baptism of fire for me and many of my colleagues who have just started out in medicine. Only six months into my medical career, I found myself on the frontline of COVID-19. The pace of change was rapid; when the NHS is in crisis, clinicians find innovative solutions. The Welsh government should continue to recognise and support this by investing further in community medicine and social care which would improve patient experience and keep more people out of hospital.”