Thousands of doctors have said they have not been properly protected from coronavirus at work, a new survey has found.
The British Medical Association (BMA) has been keeping track of members’ experience of the pandemic since April last year.
Doctors in GP practices and hospitals were asked: “Taking everything into account, do you feel safely protected from coronavirus infection in your place of work?”
In April, just over 11% said they felt fully protected but this rose to 41% by July, after the first wave of the virus had passed and lockdown was eased.
However, since July, the figure has continued to decline with just 2005 doctors – less than 28% of those asked – telling the BMA they felt fully protected at work.
Doctor Rob Harwood, the chair of the BMA Consultants Committee, said: “No one should have to go to work and not feel safe, but these results show that our doctors, the length and breadth of the country, seem to be doing just that – and that’s a terrible indictment.
“To be caring for patients, many of whom are seriously ill and need complex care, whilst anxious about the adequacy of your own protection from the virus, should not be happening in a twenty first century health service.”
At least 230 frontline health and care workers have been identified after dying with coronavirus.
This figure is likely to be lower than the true number of workers who have died, as the names of some have not yet been published.
Many of those who have died while working on the frontlines have come from Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.
Doctors from ethnic minority backgrounds told BMA that they do not feel fully protected from Covid-19 at work, with 72% feeling unprotected compared with 60% of white respondents.
Dr Harwood said: “Doctors have saved countless lives but the cost to their own wellbeing will be immense. It’s unacceptable that we are still seeing just how many doctors are not as well protected as they feel they should be in their workplace; and its gone on for almost a year.
“Staff should be able to have absolute trust that their welfare is as well protected as it possibly can be while they are at work.
“It’s almost impossible to comprehend the mental anguish to frontline staff caused by the stress of working through this pandemic but it’s time to try.
“The Government and employers need to produce a credible, practical plan of action to repair the damage to staff trust and ensure that our NHS staff are given the care and attention they need so they in turn can give patients what they need.”
The BMA is calling for better access to more protective face masks, Covid-secure rest facilities and for doctors to be able to take the leave they have not been able to, so far.
The union said it has seen a steady increase in the number of doctors being supported by the its wellbeing services as well as those contacting the 24-hour helpline.
Since the onset of the pandemic, the BMA has lobbied for improvements in PPE provision, in testing for health workers, better support and risk assessments for BAME doctors and improved terms and conditions, including death in service benefits.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The safety of our frontline staff is paramount and we are absolutely determined that all our hard-working healthcare staff get the right personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep them safe. We have adequate stock of PPE to meet the current level of demand – and we consistently monitor stock levels and supply to work to prevent gaps in supply of any item.
“It is vital that every effort is made to ensure that the fundamental principles of Covid-19 Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) are adhered to at all times, including the appropriate use of PPE, extended use of face masks and coverings, physical distancing, good ventilation, hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette and symptom vigilance. The advice from the UK IPC cell is that the available evidence does not support a change to current PPE requirements, however this is kept under review in light of new and emerging evidence.
“Front line health and social care staff have also been among the first to be vaccinated. As of yesterday (February 12) 278,175 frontline health and social care workers, exceeding the initial target of 230,000 staff provided by health boards, have been vaccinated.
“All patient-facing staff members who work in NHS Scotland hospitals, the Scottish Ambulance Service and Covid-19 Assessment Centres undergo twice weekly lateral flow testing, as well as Covid-19 vaccinators, the community workforce and district nurses. The scope of this pathway is now being extended for primary and community care.
“The health and wellbeing of NHS staff is a key priority at this challenging time. We are working to make sure we have enough staff who are well supported and well rested, this includes recruiting and redeploying more staff into critical roles. A range of activity is also underway on staff wellbeing including access to temporary accommodation and improved rest spaces.”