The health service risks having a “massive level of burnouts” in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis, unless additional care is given to the “very fragile” mental health of staff, a leading doctor has warned.
Dr Lewis Morrison, the chair of the British Medical Association in Scotland, spoke about the impact the pandemic was having on health professionals.
And he said a “public messaging campaign” was now required to explain to the people why things were still being delayed several months after Covid-19 first hit Scotland.
Speaking at a fringe event at the SNP conference, Dr Morrison said public understanding of the impact the virus was having on health services was starting to “fray at the edges now”.
The BMA Scotland chair said: “We’re entering a period now where people’s frustrations are starting to show a wee bit more, and health and social care are on the front line of the expression of those frustrations, when people can’t get the health care they need as quickly as they normally would.”
He raised concerns over what could happen if vaccines are not rolled out to the wider population as quickly as people expect, saying: “I do worry about how people are going to get frustrated when that doesn’t go as quickly as people would like.”
And he stressed there should now be a public information campaign explaining “why it is so important that people must maintain civility in their interactions with healthcare”.
His comments came as nursing and pharmacy leaders spoke about the impact Covid-19 had had on their professions.
Theresa Fyffe, director of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in Scotland, said there had been a “sharp rise in the number of nursing staff considering quitting the profession sadly”.
She stated that an RCN survey found “in Scotland 38% of our members reported they were thinking about leaving, as compared to 27% the year before”.
And she added that for some nurses being “able to get breaks and get something to eat and drink at times is still an ongoing pressure for them”.
Ms Fyffe said: “We had a very short period between the first wave and the second wave, we have a very tired set of staff who had little time for recovery.
“They’ve not hit the second wave with feelings of they have got to find the energy and the ability to deal with all of what is happening. There is not now just the pandemic, it has been flu vaccinations, other health and care provision.”
Meanwhile Clare Morrison, the Scottish director of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said a survey of pharmacists had found almost three quarters (72%) reporting that work was “negatively impacting on their mental health and wellbeing”.
She citied problems such as “workload, inadequate staffing, long working hours, lack of breaks, a poor work-life balance, a sense of isolation” as being the reasons for this.
She went on to say that a third (33%) were considering leaving their job, adding: “We’ve got 89% at risk of burnout at the moment, compared to 80% last year, so there is no doubt Covid is having an impact on pharmacists right now.”
Dr Morrison said that general practice was “actually busier than it was this time last year, first because of pent up demand and secondly because the way we have to work is so very different it take more time”.
To help the health service recover, he argued there must be a “proper plan for recruitment and retention” after the pandemic.
The BMA Scotland chair insisted: “There has to be a conversation about what is it we want the NHS to do with the people that we have got to do it, which lets those professionals do it in a sustainable way.
“Because I think the real risk as we come out of this pandemic are massive levels of burnouts and the risk of that, and the very fragile health, mental health, of the healthcare workforce is going to need a lot of care over the next couple of years.”
He added: “If ever there is a message about what we need to do to prepare for the next time it is that in fact concentrating on the whole system of public health would have been the answer to how to deal with pandemic better.
“It seems blatantly obvious to me that if we had had better pandemic preparedness because of a much better resourced public health service we would not be where we are today having this conference virtually.”