UK COVID-19 Update: Pandemic Pressures for Health Workers, MPs Criticise Govt Shielding Strategy

Peter Russell

April 21, 2021

These are the UK coronavirus stories you need to know about today.

Healthcare Workers Faced Pandemic Burnout

Research published in the journal PLOS ONE , found significant rates of mental health problems among healthcare workers in the 3 months since the pandemic took hold.

The study of 3537 workers in the UK, Poland, and Singapore found rates of:

  • 67% for burnout

  • 20% for anxiety

  • 11% for depression

Those most at risk of burnout were in patient-facing roles, including doctors and nurses, the study said.

Meanwhile, working in the NHS during a year of the pandemic had become tougher for the overwhelming majority of doctors, a major survey found.

In an earnings and satisfaction survey of 1025 doctors for Medscape UK, 83% of doctors said that working in the NHS was harder now.

Bureaucracy, poor staffing levels, increased workload coupled with decreasing pay, and burnout were among factors cited for the change.

Common themes for improving working in the NHS included clinically led organisation of the NHS, better funding for GP practices, and an easing of management of clinicians.

The survey was carried out in the 3 months until February.

Boris Johnson Urged to Address NHS Staffing Shortages

Six organisations representing most of the NHS workforce and the organisations which employ them have written to the Prime Minister demanding action to address the "chronic undersupply of NHS staff".

The NHS Confederation, NHS Providers, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges, and Unison said shortages were particularly evident in degree level professions.

The letter to Boris Johnson said that as "exhausted" healthcare workers emerge from the pandemic, "we ask you to give them hope".

The bodies called for additional investment in workforce capacity to tackle the "huge and ballooning" elective care backlog, which currently stands at 4.7 million, as well as enabling the NHS to deliver on its commitments to patients set out in the NHS Long Term Plan.

MPs Criticise 'Shielding' Policy

The Government's "quickly drawn up" scheme to support people most vulnerable to COVID-19 to shield at home "suffered from the problems of poor data and a lack of joined up systems that we see all too often in Government programmes", the Commons Public Accounts Committee concluded in a report.

The financial watchdog said ministers "took too long to identify some clinically vulnerable people at a time when their need was urgent".

As a result, up to 800,000 people may have "slipped through the net and missed out on much-needed support" before they were added to local authority lists.

Even then, the scale of additions to the 'shielded patient list' was subject to a postcode lottery, in which support ranged from 15% to 352% between different local authority areas, it said.

The report acknowledged that lessons had since been learnt from the shortcomings.

Meg Hillier MP, (Labour & Co-op, Hackney South and Shoreditch), who chairs the committee, said: "The shielding response in the Covid pandemic has particularly exposed the high human cost of the lack of planning for shielding in pandemic planning scenarios. It also highlights the perennial issue of poor data and joined up policy systems.

People were instructed to isolate, to protect themselves and others – but the cost of this protection was reduced access to living essentials like food, and an untold toll on the mental health and well-being of the already most vulnerable.

"There are questions still to be answered about the balance between central decision making and local knowledge – the increase in numbers of those advised to shield demonstrate the challenges of trying to deliver this programme centrally, as well as with the data held by the NHS."

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, British Medical Association council chair, called for more strategic planning and better communication from central government. "At a time when GPs were already overwhelmed, this led to a huge rise in workload having to contact large numbers of people within a short time frame without comprehensive guidance," he said.

Other News

  • The UK was likely to see a "summer surge" in COVID cases as lockdown is relaxed, according to Prof Adam Finn, of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation He told the BBC that with many adults still not vaccinated, the UK remained "vulnerable", and that the dates for a further easing of restrictions might need adjusting.

  • Uptake of COVID vaccines from all ethnic minority backgrounds has tripled since February. Dr Nikita Kanani, medical director of primary care for NHS England, said progress was the result of work by NHS teams who know their communities, messages from faith leaders, and celebrity endorsements.

  • Tony Blair called on the Government to release in-depth figures to show the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, particularly the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine that has been linked to rare blood clots. The former Labour Prime Minister told Sky News: "I think the full dataset would show that AstraZeneca is a highly effective vaccine, it will save huge amounts of lives, hospitalisation and people getting 'long COVID'.

  • Regular physical activity could cut the risk of dying from infectious diseases such as COVID-19 by 37%, a study in the journal Sports Medicine found. Scientists from Glasgow Caledonian University said that 30 minutes of activity 5 days a week could also boost vaccine effectiveness by up to 40%.

Time Slows Under Lockdown

Time appeared to pass more slowly for people in the UK's COVID-19 lockdown, a survey found.

A study by John Moores University in Liverpool, involving 853 people, found that over 80% of people reported experiencing distortion to the passage of time during the second national lockdown in comparison with normal perception.

Feeling like it was longer than 8 months since the lockdown began was associated with greater depression, increased dissatisfaction with social interaction, and greater change of daily life, according to the study in PLOS ONE.

See more global coronavirus updates in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.

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