We need to prioritise doctor’s wellbeing beyond Covid-19

Lockdown may be easing across the country, but doctors and other NHS staff are still working tirelessly to treat COVID-19 patients, as well as trying to help the NHS as it moves towards resuming some of its normal services.

The support NHS staff have been shown by the public over the last few months has really been astounding. Local businesses, individuals wanting to show their appreciation, and organisations like the BMA and many others have been turning up to hospitals with care packages, food parcels and have been offering various services to support people. This has been very appreciated throughout what may well have been the hardest period of our working lives.

It took its time, but the NHS itself also responded and got into step with the public by increasing its level of support. After years of campaigning by those of us who know how important caring for, and valuing, staff is this was a delight to witness, but there is still a way to go.

In some hospitals, there are now comfortable rest areas, relaxation sessions, warm food, free parking, but these things need to be available across the country. These things are hardly revolutionary and hardly luxury, but they have made a big difference to the way we have felt treated in the middle of this crisis.

But as the pandemic, the immediate emergency medical part of it anyway, begins to drift from people’s minds I hope that these measures brought in by some hospitals and health boards across Scotland are kept in place permanently. I hope the rest choose to implement positive and permanent wellbeing measures for staff as a matter of urgency. The NHS cannot forget that for doctors and NHS staff, this pandemic and the work to recover from it, is not over and will not be for years to come.

As the numbers of sick, the numbers of dying, thankfully subside, we don’t want these positive changes to disappear. Patients will always deserve a doctor who is rested and ready to treat them – even if their illness isn’t deemed worthy of newspaper headlines.

I feel compelled to say this because there are some indications that in some places, the enthusiasm by some employers that led to these things being set up is waning.

Knowing how stark the difference is when comparing the places where these are provided and where they are not, it is so disheartening that we may be faced with hospitals and health boards looking backwards not forwards.

It is hard to see why anyone thinks we can lose these key staff supports when we are just entering the marathon section of this experience. Supporting staff isn’t a passive endeavour and as we find ourselves approaching the middle of summer and soon autumn, I for one can’t help but think of the winter pressures awaiting us on the other side of it.

Thinking back to just a few months ago, it’s hard to imagine for many of us that we would ever see employers take these simple steps to support staff this quickly. When you are turning up to work, day in day out, despite everything going on, having somewhere peaceful to get a bite to eat or a cup of coffee is really the minimum that you deserve. These improvements haven’t come a minute too soon by any measure.

When we are increasingly recognising that many things cannot just go back to normal, it’s very clear that we cannot allow the clock to turn back on caring for staff – even if the clapping has stopped.

Dr Chris Sheridan, co-chair of the Scottish Junior Doctor Committee

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