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Press release: Plan mental wellbeing support now to avoid exodus of doctors after Covid-19

22 June 2020

The Government and private healthcare providers must plan now for the mental wellbeing support doctors will need due to the Covid-19 pandemic, if we are to avoid huge swathes either leaving the profession or suffering in silence, Medical Protection said today.

Medical Protection – the world’s leading protection organisation for healthcare professionals, supporting more than 32,000 in South Africa – said plans must include specialist psychiatric and psychological support for those struggling with depression and PTSD, alongside measures to ensure the system has capacity so those needing treatment or time to recuperate are supported without adding to staff shortages or detracting from patient care.

The organisation said plans should be supported by all role players - including central government - to maintain local initiatives such as counselling services, while taking steps to increase awareness and research into mental health and provide more practitioner wellbeing support services.

The call comes as a survey of Medical Protection members (conducted by Research By Design) showed that a third of doctors (32%) feel their mental wellbeing is worse compared to two weeks previously. Concern about the health of family and friends (60%), finances (54%), their own health (42%), and the health of patients (40%) were cited as having the most impact on healthcare professionals’ mental wellbeing.

Dr Volker Hitzeroth, Medicolegal Consultant at Medical Protection, said: “Adrenaline will be carrying many healthcare workers through this pandemic and helping them to cope despite the exhaustion and tragedy they experience daily. It is when the crisis recedes and there is time to reflect that the accumulated stress and trauma may surface – this is the time healthcare professionals will be most at risk and need support.

“The Government and private healthcare providers should be actively planning for this time now. A range of support will be needed; some will experience grief or moral injury, some may have unresolved anger over issues such as PPE supply, or distress and fear of reprisal at being unable to treat patients with non Covid-19 conditions. Others may suffer with depression and PTSD, and many are at risk of burnout set against a backdrop of an already burnt out workforce. Possible regulatory or prosecutorial repercussions are an underlying threat faced by all who treat Covid-19 patients, compounding the mental strain of healthcare professionals.

“Mental wellbeing is not just a challenge to be met by the Government; hospitals and professional societies have a part to play. Many professional societies have stepped up with dedicated colleagues looking after the wellbeing of their members. A nationwide campaign to raise awareness and provide additional support would help join up these efforts and ensure those healthcare professionals who need specialist support can access it when they need it most.

“But any plan must also build capacity and support into the system. Many doctors will not take time off to seek help if they are worrying about the extra workload for colleagues, or that they will be viewed as weak.

“If we don’t act now many doctors will become burnt out and disillusioned or continue with chronic mental health conditions – both of which put the safety of themselves, their families and their patients at risk. Many others may sadly choose to leave the profession.

“Even after the worst has passed, Covid-19 will continue to bring pressures and complications, compounded by a significant clinical backlog to deal with. The last thing we want is huge swathes of healthcare practitioners leaving the profession after Covid-19. This must be avoided – it is time to care for healthcare professionals just as they are caring for us.”

END

Notes to editors

The Medical Protection survey was conducted by the independent market research organisation, Research By Design. It ran from 18-29 May and achieved 346 responses from doctors in South Africa. Full results available on request.

For press enquiries contact: Mike Bridge at mike.bridge@medicalprotection.org +44(0)7773 573303.

About Medical Protection

Medical Protection is a trading name of The Medical Protection Society Limited (“MPS”). MPS is the world’s leading protection organisation for doctors, dentists and healthcare professionals. We protect and support the professional interests of more than 300,000 members around the world. Membership provides access to expert advice and support and can also provide, depending on the type of membership required, the right to request indemnity for any complaints or claims arising from professional practice.

Our in-house experts assist with the wide range of legal and ethical problems that arise from professional practice. This can include clinical negligence claims, complaints, medical and dental council inquiries, legal and ethical dilemmas, disciplinary procedures, inquests and fatal accident inquiries.

Our philosophy is to support safe practice in medicine and dentistry by helping to avert problems in the first place. We do this by promoting risk management through our workshops, E-learning, clinical risk assessments, publications, conferences, lectures and presentations.

MPS is not an insurance company. All the benefits of membership of MPS are discretionary as set out in the Memorandum and Articles of Association.