While the Government has pledged to conduct a public inquiry into the COVID-19 pandemic, the delay of learning the results of those findings will take too long. The British Medical Association (“BMA”) realised this, and is publishing five reports in total. The BMA conducted a study between November and December 2021 of doctors’ views and experiences throughout the pandemic. The first two reports are out and they focus on the protection of the medical profession from COVID-19 and the effect of the pandemic on the medical profession, respectively. Overall the reports found that there was a lack of preparation on the Government’s part in terms of responding to and managing the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, this has taken a huge psychological toll on doctors and health care professionals who worked through the pandemic.
Report 1 – Protection during COVID-19
The most shocking finding from their first report was that 81% of participants in the study felt that they were not fully protected during the first wave of the pandemic. It was commonly reported that there were deficiencies in PPE (personal protective equipment), either being the wrong type or not having enough, during the first weeks of the pandemic. Some doctors were even instructed by their employers to not use PPE during these early weeks. According to the data, 71% of participants reported shortages in full-face visors, 65% reported shortages in disposable goggles, and 54% reported shortages in FFP3 masks.
The BMA determined that these initial shortages were only exacerbated by the Government’s lack of preparation for the pandemic because they failed to enact pandemic-preparation measures in the years leading up to COVID-19. In March 2020 the IPC (infection prevention control) cell, the pan-UK body tasked with reviewing and developing infection prevention and control guidance, continually downgraded PPE requirements for those interaction with COVID-19 patients. At first, medical professionals were only required to have a fluid-resistant surgical mask, despite scientific evidence showing that COVID-19 could be spread other ways. Additionally, it was found that there was a disparity between COVID-19 risk assessments for ethnic minorities and white doctors, with 48% of the former stating that risk assessments have been mostly or completely ineffective at protecting them compared to 35% of the latter stating the same.
Report 2 – Effect of COVID-19
Data revealed that at least 50 doctors died due to COVID-19, 11% of doctors who developed long COVID-19 were forced to reduce their working hours and 51% stated that while they were still able to work it negatively affected their quality of life. This has taken a huge psychological toll on the doctors who worked through the pandemic and the BMA reported a 173% increase in demand for counselling services between February 2021 and January 2022 compared to February 2020 and January 2021.
According to the BMA in this second report, a failure on the Government’s part to publicly back and defend doctors has caused serious damage to the morale of the medical profession as a whole. Many participants reported feeling abandoned and even attacked by the Government. GPs in particular felt targeted by the Government, press and some patients after being falsely accused of not working and failing to provide the public with access to care. Individual respondents are quoted as describing this as “Extremely demoralising” and stating that the attitude of the press and Government have the potential to cause “irreparable damage to the morale of GPs”.
All in all, the BMA cites Government failures and mishandling as an exacerbating factor to the COVID-19 situation. The COVID-19 pandemic has been hardest test on the NHS’s durability since its founding in 1948. When parliamentary committees call this ‘one of the most important public health failures the UK has ever experienced,’ it becomes easy to blame the healthcare providers. However, as the first two BMA reports are showing, it appears that the blame really lies with Government policy and its failure to properly address and manage the issues in infrastructure that the COVID-19 pandemic have highlighted.