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Work Pressures Taking Toll on Doctors' Mental Health

Almost half of doctors in the UK say their mental health is worse now than during the COVID-19 pandemic, with experts calling on the Government to continue investing in supporting the health service's workforce.

The Medical Protection Society (MPS) surveyed 861 doctors and found 46% were worse off psychologically than during the pandemic due to work pressure and staffing issues in the NHS.

It comes after NHS England pledged to share £2.3 million between seven regions to maintain 40 NHS staff mental health and wellbeing hubs, which were set up in 2021 to provide workers with fast and easy access to support. However, MPS said a freedom of information request by the British Psychological Society found £40 million would be required to run the sites.

Of those surveyed by MPS:

  • 75% did not believe the Government is doing enough to help healthcare workers when it comes to mental health
  • 43% are considering their future career due to concerns about their own wellbeing
  • 76% said staff shortages are making it hard to take time off to deal with their issues
  • 43% of doctors said "not being able to do the right thing for patients" impacted on their mental health

Elsewhere, 47% said they were concerned about the impact of burnout on patient safety, and 40% said working long hours is affecting their mental wellbeing.

"Haemorrhaging of Experienced Staff"

A doctor who participated in the survey said: "Pressures across NHS secondary, primary and social care, and the haemorrhaging of experienced staff at every level make the job increasingly impossible and fear of serious incidents, things going wrong, a sense of lurching from crisis to crisis with little or no respite, is taking its toll.

"I am considering early retirement – far earlier than planned. I do think this will be a sad loss both for myself and the NHS services as I have considerable experience and expertise. But I have my health, wellbeing and family to consider also."

Professor Dame Jane Dacre, MPS president, said the mental health and wellbeing hubs "provide desperately needed support to staff" with a range of issues, including anxiety and depression. She added: "Demand for support with mental health issues is still high. Nearly half of our members tell us their mental health is worse now than it was during the pandemic, and a similar amount are considering their future in healthcare due to mental health concerns.

"We are also seeing more staff absent from work due to mental ill health than ever before.

"It therefore seems absolutely the wrong time to scale back mental health provision for healthcare staff and risk the sustainability of an established network of hubs that are crucial in supporting mental wellbeing and retention."

"Urgent Need" for Mental Health Support

Sarb Bajwa, chief executive at the British Psychological Society, said: "These shocking – but sadly not surprising – findings once again highlight the urgent need for the ongoing, dedicated mental health support provided by the hubs. It's clear the health and social care workforce is running on empty, and they deserve better than a drastically reduced service that's unable to meet demand due to short-sighted funding arrangements."

Last week, data published by NHS Digital revealed 24.2% of sick days across the health service in March 2023 were due to anxiety, stress, depression, or other psychiatric illnesses. The figure was 24.6% in February and 23.3% in January.

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said the likes of staff shortages, operational pressures, and demand on healthcare services "take a huge toll on the psychological wellbeing of staff across hospital, ambulance, mental health, and community services. Trust leaders are deeply worried about this and are doing all they can do support staff and cover sickness absences, but their efforts will only go so far without national support," she added.

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