In an article published in The Lancet, RCP president Professor Andrew Goddard and RCP Global vice president Dr Mumtaz Patel call for system-wide support to protect clinicians from harm.

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed huge demands on global health systems which are testing doctors and health-care workers to the limits of their professional competence and taking a considerable toll on their health. More system-wide acknowledgement and support is now urgently needed to protect clinicians from harm write Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and Dr Mumtaz Patel, Vice President RCP Global in The Lancet.

Globally, more than 300, 000 health-care workers have been infected with COVID-19 in 79 countries, over 7,000 have died, and many more have suffered as a result of stress, burnout, and moral injury. There is an urgent need for more comprehensive system-level acknowledgement and a new approach to address the issues that COVID-19 has created to better protect and safeguard our medical workforce for the future.

In a recent survey of RCP members, half (49%) reported not getting enough sleep and 63% said there had been no discussion in their organisation about timetabled time off to recuperate. The RCP believes that staff must be given time off to rest and recover from the pressure of the pandemic, so they are ready to face the next challenge of tackling the pent-up demand of non-COVID-19 care.

Earlier this week, the government announced the launch of 40 new mental health hubs for health care staff traumatised by COVID-19. The RCP welcomes this but advises that wider organisational interventions are also considered when looking after physicians’ wellbeing. This includes providing flexible working arrangements, enhanced teamwork, reductions in administrative burdens, and optimal use of technology. Hospital regulators such as the CQC should also consider being even more mindful when measuring the ‘safety and wellbeing’ of staff in light of the pandemic.

“Physicians’ wellbeing must be better recognised as a care quality indicator for all health systems. Improving the working lives of clinicians can optimise the performance of health systems, improve patient experience, drive population health, and reduce costs. This wider system approach will lead to greater cohesiveness within health care and support individual professionals in a safer, more sustainable way,” write Professor Goddard and Dr Patel in the The Lancet.

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