Exhausted doctors who have seen “truly horrific things” during the pandemic must be able to organise time off to recuperate before facing the pent-up demand in the system, a top medic has said.
Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), warned that things “can’t go from crisis management with the pandemic to crisis management of the backlog”.
He spoke as a survey of doctors across the UK showed almost half were not getting enough sleep, and almost two thirds said there had been no discussion in their organisation about timetabled time off.
Revealing how the stresses of the pandemic had affected him, he told the PA news agency: “I’ve cried more at work this (past) year than I have ever in my entire life.
“I’ve had good friends and colleagues die from Covid and that will stay with me forever.”
The consultant physician and gastroenterologist at Royal Derby Hospital said he was “quite happy to admit that I’ve at times had to cry”.
He said pressures had been most acutely felt in areas such as intensive care units, as well as by those working in respiratory and geriatric medicine.
He said: “People have seen some truly horrific things. We have seen patients dying on our wards at a level that we’ve never seen before.
“We’ve been working under a pressure that we’ve never seen before.”
Against this backdrop, the RCP said staff must be given time off to rest and recover from the pressure of the pandemic, to enable them to tackle the backlog of non-Covid care.
The college’s survey of 1,168 members across the UK last week showed that 49% were not getting enough sleep, with London’s doctors worst affected, where 11% said they never get the amount of sleep they need, compared to 8% for doctors elsewhere in the UK.
Morale has improved, with 28% of doctors feeling worried this month compared to 48% last month, but the college said 63% still felt tired or exhausted and 27% said they felt demoralised.
On discussion within their organisation about timetabled time off to recuperate, 63% said there had been none.
Prof Goddard said there are also concerns about the toll the pandemic could take on the workforce.
He said: “I worry when I talk to some colleagues, they’ll say ‘well I’m not sure I can stay in the NHS for much longer after this’ and those conversations are happening so we mustn’t underestimate the impact that this has had on people and individuals.”
He said he will “wait and see” what is suggested in the Prime Minister’s road map for the emergence from lockdown on Monday, but that he hoped the approach would be cautious.
He said: “I would love to be able to go on holiday as much as the next person, and I would love to be able to go and meet my mates in the pub but for the moment I would much rather that we get everything under control.”