A survey of RCP fellows and members conducted this week has clearly demonstrated the impact that COVID-19 has had on the NHS workforce.
The survey, carried out over 24 hours, asked respondents whether they were currently taking time off from their normal work schedule or had taken time off recently, if they were able to access testing for COVID-19, and if they were able to access the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).
While the government has put in place plans to increase PPE supply and increase testing, delivery of those plans must be sped up.
Commenting on the survey, the results of which are published by The Sunday Times, RCP president Professor Andrew Goddard said: “These figures are a stark indication of the incredibly difficult situation facing our members working in the NHS.
“The government’s current strategy to deliver testing that would support NHS staff to return to the workforce as quickly as possible clearly isn’t working.
“The fact that only 78% of respondents could access the PPE they needed is a big concern and we must aim to get to 100% as soon as possible.
“We welcome promises made this week to increase COVID-19 testing to 100,000 a day by the end of April, but NHS and social care staff and their households need tests now and progress has been far slower than the system requires. If it wants to build confidence, the Government must publish its plan, timeline and the challenges it expects.”
There were 2,513 responses, the vast majority of which (1,932) were from people in England. 21% were in London, 11% in the north west and 10.5% the west midlands. 69% were consultants, 11.5% higher specialty trainees and 5% physician associates.
21.5% in London and 18.3% in the rest of England (RoE) were taking time off from their normal work schedule, with no significant difference between consultants and non-consultant grades. The main reason for being off work was ill with suspected COVID-19 (42% London, 30% RoE), followed by self-isolating because someone in the household showed COVID-19 symptoms (18.5% London, 25% RoE).
In the weeks preceding the survey, 30.4% in London and 25.8% in the RoE had to take time off work. Non-consultants (29%) were more likely to have had time off than consultants (26%). Again, the main reasons were ill with suspected COVID-19 (41% London, 37% RoE), followed by self-isolating because someone in the household showed COVID-19 symptoms (21% London, 30% RoE).
Testing was available for 31% of respondents with symptoms, but there was wide geographical variation across the UK: 40.5% in London, and from 9.5% in East of England to 63% in our Northern region. But only 12.5% said testing was available for members of the household who had symptoms: 13% in London, and from 2.7% in East of England to 32% in Thames Valley.
75% of respondents additionally said they were aware that other clinical staff they worked with had problems accessing testing, and 70% said they knew of\ problems for non-clinical key staff. Again, there was wide geographical variation, from 94% in East of England to 44% in the Northern region (clinical staff).
Personal protective equipment
78% of respondents were able to access the necessary PPE (79.4% in London and from 72.7% in West Midlands to 90% in Thames Valley). From what they told us, it is clear that there are at least two distinct issues with PPE: supply, and recommendations on what to wear and when.
The RCP contributed to the updated PPE guidance that was published on Thursday and we hope will go some way to reducing the uncertainty. But ensuring clinicians are confident that they are safe is crucial to the delivery of care for COVID-19 patients.
What we are doing
RCP president Professor Goddard and the whole senior officer team is working closely with national NHS leaders across the UK, including the Chief Medical Officers and national medical directors, to raise fellows and members’ concerns and provide solutions.
Two weeks ago, the RCP wrote to the Health Secretary laying out its concerns that PPE and access to testing were inadequate. While there has been progress on both it has not been quick enough, as Professor Andrew Goddard said on BBC Breakfast on Monday.
Over the weekend the RCP wrote to both the Health Secretary and the chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee to share what it learned in this survey. The RCP has underlined the importance of increasing access to testing and PPE and will continue to do so until the situation is resolved.