Many Doctors Resistant to Returning to Old Working Patterns

Peter Russell

June 08, 2020

Fewer than half of doctors want to see their working patterns return to normal after the COVID-19 pandemic, a survey suggested.

The results reflect the upheaval in the NHS as it has adapted to cope with the demands caused by the novel coronavirus, the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) said.

Since April, the RCP has conducted four surveys to assess what members and fellows have learnt during the pandemic.

The latest survey covered continuing experiences of testing, personal protective equipment (PPE), time off work, rotas, working patterns, and risk assessments.

It also looked into how the NHS would 'restart' after the pandemic.

'Need to Prepare for Second Wave'

RCP President, Prof Andrew Goddard, said: "I am spectacularly proud of the ways in which doctors have so quickly adapted their working lives to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. It is illuminating to see, however, that so many of them do not want to return to how they were working before.

"We need to listen to doctors' concerns and continue to adapt the way we are working, not only secure and retain our NHS workforce, but also to prepare for the possibility of a second peak of the virus later this year."

The survey also revealed that more than half of doctors from black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds were concerned about their health if they contracted COVID-19.

Among other main findings from 1218 members questioned:

  • Only 45% of respondents said they wanted their working pattern to be what it was before the pandemic

  • 10% felt they were prepared for services to return to normal

  • 31% said they thought it would take between one year and 18 months for the NHS to get back on an 'even keel'

  • Issues with access to PPE and testing had improved but 16% of doctors still report being unable to access the PPE needed for managing patients with COVID-19

  • Only 24% had received a formal risk assessment for dealing with COVID-19

  • Only 26% of members had been able to access antibody testing, and of those, 30% reported the results as positive

RCP members were asked about their working patterns and practices during the pandemic.

It found that 22% of respondents said they were working in a clinical area that was different from their normal practice. Of those, 40.5% said they were working on a COVID-19 ward.

Clinical Work After the Pandemic

Although 45% of clinicians said they wanted to return to their previous working patterns, 26% said they wanted to work the same number of programmed activities (PAs), but more flexibly, while 14% wanted to work fewer PAs in the future.

Pressures from the pandemic have led to a continuing fall in the amount of time off that clinicians had been able to take. Only 5% of respondents said they were currently taking time off work.

With pressures on the NHS gradually reducing, 28% reported having had time off, 19% hadn’t had time off or arranged it but were planning on doing so, with 19% having arranged time off in the future.

Among other findings:

  • 97% of respondents reported that they had been able to access polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing to check for current infection

  • 26% said they had been able to access an antibody test to assess past infection

  • Only 24% of respondents reported having had a formal assessment of their risk undertaken, an increase of 6% compared with the last survey

  • 38% said they were concerned or very concerned about their health, a drop of 10% since the previous survey

The survey was carried out in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

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