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Doctors voice concern at impact of Covid-19 on care for other patients

Half of BMA members surveyed believe the situation is ‘worsening’ for non Covid-19 patients.

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Many doctors have reported problems with PPE (Michael Cooper/PA)

Many doctors have reported problems with PPE (Michael Cooper/PA)

Many doctors have reported problems with PPE (Michael Cooper/PA)

Doctors in Northern Ireland are concerned about the impact of Covid-19 on care for other patients, a survey has found.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said more than 60% of doctors believe the situation was “worsening” for non-coronavirus patients.

The members’ survey also found that 44% said their main concern at this time was the longer-term impact on patient clinical demand.

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NI chairman Dr Tom Black said urgent attention needs to be given to getting non-coronavirus patients “back into the system”.

“As we move towards the second phase of Covid-19 and what will be a ‘new normal’ we need to urgently look at how we begin to get patients with non-Covid illnesses back into the system, as well as dealing with ongoing Covid cases and the new Covid cases that will undoubtedly emerge,” he said.

“The health minister has acknowledged that we already had a dreadful situation with our waiting lists and that has not got better during the pandemic, but it will be even more challenging now to address those long waits, see new patients who have been reluctant to seek help during the initial pandemic phase and maintain the ability to pivot our services again should we see a second surge in coronavirus cases.

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“We need to build on what we have learnt during this time and how we addressed the issue thanks to the innovation and leadership our members demonstrated and make sure we can harness and value that input for the next phase.”

The survey, which is the largest survey of doctors undertaken in Northern Ireland during the pandemic, also found that a quarter of doctors felt they were experiencing “depression, anxiety, stress and burnout” that was worse because of the pandemic.

On personal protective equipment (PPE), it found that 57% have either bought items or had them donated to them for use, and 28% said they have not spoken up about it because they felt nothing would be done, while 8.5% said they feared speaking out about it.

The pandemic is a marathon not a sprint so we would urge any doctor who is feeling burnout to access support and help.Dr Noel Sharkey

Dr Noel Sharkey, chairman of the BMA-NI junior doctors committee, described the findings as “concerning”.

“Speaking to my junior doctor colleagues they are telling me that they have had their rotas changed without proper consultation, they are being asked to work longer and more anti-social hours than before the pandemic and often in a new specialty area,” he said.

“This feeling is reflected in the survey results where over 66% of doctors tell us they were not given a choice to accept redeployment while 81% say they do not know how long they will be redeployed for. There is no doubt that this will have a negative impact on mental health.

“About 58% are then telling us that they have only partially been able to access support for their wellbeing. As it has been said the pandemic is a marathon not a sprint so we would urge any doctor who is feeling burnout to access support and help.”

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