Government failed to protect doctors during pandemic, says BMA

Two new reports from the BMA conclude the UK Government failed in its duty of care to protect doctors and the wider healthcare workforce from avoidable harm and suffering in its management of Covid-19. 

The documents, part of a series of five, are comprehensive accounts of the lived experiences of doctors throughout the pandemic, collated from thousands of doctors across the UK.

Pages detail the devastating impact of the pandemic on medical professionals as individuals, which the association argues show errors of judgement and policy made by the UK Government amounting to a failure of a duty of care to the workforce.

The reports, which will also form part of the BMA’s submission to the UK COVID-19 Public Inquiry, make a series of recommendations about lessons which must be learned as well as presenting evidence of where things went wrong.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the BMA Council, said doctors were ‘desperately let down’ by a Government failure to adequately prepare for the pandemic and subsequent flawed decision-making.

‘Many doctors were left unprotected due to critical shortages of PPE as coronavirus hit our shores, resulting in healthcare professionals becoming infected at a higher rate than the rest of the population. 

‘Hundreds of healthcare workers lost their lives after contracting Covid-19. 95% of doctors who died in April 2020 were from an ethnic minority; a figure which demands that the UK Government addresses the deep race inequalities afflicting our NHS workforce.’

Debilitating long Covid

He said many doctors continued to experience the debilitating symptoms of’long Covid, preventing them from returning to work and affecting their lives daily.

Key recommendations for governments from the reports include:

UK and devolved governments should continue to carry out pandemic preparedness exercises for the most likely types of infections and must act on the lessons learned from these exercises and the Covid-19 pandemic, identifying key themes such as PPE stockpiling, testing and public health capacity.

Public health systems should be resourced and funded to have adequate contact tracing capacity and be able to rapidly scale up testing for future variants or pandemics.

The UK Government needs to maintain an adequate rotating stockpile of suitable PPE and have plans to quickly scale up procurement and manufacturing if required.

General well-being support including timely and accessible occupational health assessments and support to access psychological support services must be made available for staff at all levels across all health services, with specific support also offered to ensure staff can recover from the pressure of delivering care during a pandemic.

The need for a continuous and transparent assessment of workforce shortages and future staffing requirement to ensure health services and public health systems are better prepared to deal with crises.

Today’s reports also contain new qualitative and quantitative research conducted by the BMA asking doctors about their experiences in several areas.

Headline findings of BMA research include:

  • 81% of doctors did not feel fully protected during the first wave of the pandemic. Some doctors felt that their own protection (PPE) was not taken seriously or adequately considered;
  • 11% of doctors who had developed long Covid-19 had at some point been unable to work full-time or at all, and 51%, while still able to work, nevertheless saw a reduction in their quality of life;
  • Between February 2021 and January 2022, the BMA’s counselling service saw a 173% increase in calls compared to the period between February 2019 and January 2020, rising from an average of 200 a month to up to 800 a month at the peak of the pandemic.

See ‘Doctors frustrated with Government lack of action over Covid