Fewer than a third (28%) of UK doctors feel they are fully protected from coronavirus in their place of work, according to a survey.
The findings of the poll by the British Medical Association (BMA) show a decline since July when 41% of doctors said they felt protected.
Rob Harwood, the chair of the BMA consultants committee, said no one should have to go to work feeling unsafe, “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”.
He added: “To be caring for patients, many of whom are seriously ill and need complex care, while anxious about the adequacy of your own protection from the virus should not be happening in a 21st-century health service.”
The BMA has been regularly surveying doctors across the UK since April to find out about their experiences. “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,” said Harwood.
Separate research suggests that nearly half of doctors who worked in high-pressure conditions during the first wave of coronavirus face ongoing distress. The study, based on responses from more than 5,400 doctors in the UK and Ireland, found that 45% reported psychological distress as the pandemic accelerated to its initial peak in 2020.
Researchers from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) and psychologists from the University of Bath surveyed emergency, anaesthetics and intensive care professionals in the lead up to, at the peak and after the peak of the first wave of infections last year.
A total of 5,440 doctors – 16% of the 34,188 working in the field – responded to the first survey, 3,896 to the “peak” survey, and 3,079 to the third survey.
Harwood said the government and employers needed to produce a credible, practical plan of action to repair the damage done 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 leave they haven’t yet been able to take.
The union said it had seen a steady increase in the number of doctors being supported by its wellbeing services and contacting its 24-hour helpline.