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One in three doctors say their organisation is not prepared for winter

The twelfth survey of RCP members and fellows during the COVID-19 pandemic was conducted as more of the population returns to normality and winter is on the horizon.

With just four weeks until the end of British Summer Time, over a third of respondents to our survey (36%) say their organisation is not at all prepared for winter. 27% feel personally unprepared, and almost two thirds feeling tired or exhausted.

This follows a year of immense pressure on healthcare staff as they dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, and now face an enormous backlog of care. As well as the majority feeling tired or exhausted, 36.5% are demoralised and 32.5% pessimistic.

This was also clearly reflected in comments made by those surveyed, indicating widespread low morale among the medical workforce – “Morale in the workforce is at an all-time low,” wrote one respondent. “Can't see an end to it,” wrote another.

One respondent said: “Winter is coming - uncertain times. If not prepared it can go pear-shaped and end up in a bad way. Our region is already feeling the pinch of increased numbers at the front end and struggling with social care.

“We remain optimistic and proud to be a part of NHS in fighting past, present and future waves of pressures and keep patients safe as much as humanly possible. I only hope Government recognises and re-enforces our workforce and supports us.”

The RCP is urging the government to commit to an open and transparent workforce plan that not only serves to ensure there are enough medical staff to match demand for care in the long-term, but which will also provide the hope that health care staff desperately need.

Alongside the British Medical Association, Royal College of Nursing, NHS Providers, NHS Confederation, Macmillan Cancer Support and others, the RCP has signed a briefing proposing an amendment to the Health and Care Bill that would strengthen workforce planning by ensuring that every 2 years the Secretary of State must publish independently verified assessments of current and future workforce numbers consistent with the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) long-term fiscal projections. Ahead of the spending review, the RCP is also urging the Government to expand the number of medical school places.

Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: “There are no two ways about it - it’s an incredibly difficult time to be working in medicine. Some things, such as embracing flexible working, will help to improve morale now, while increasing the size of the workforce will ensure that in future, staff never feel as under pressure and undervalued as they do today.

“We need a commitment from government to produce regular, independent and published assessments of future workforce requirements across the NHS and social care. This will give us much-needed long-term projections of workforce needs so that enough staff are being trained up to meet those requirements.”

The RCP wants more to be done immediately to improve the conditions under which doctors and other clinicians are working. In a new article published today, based on the findings of its June survey, three RCP officers discuss the growing desire for flexible working.

They say the key to improving morale is giving back doctors some control over their working life. This means open and honest conversations about job planning and more group job planning to better manage the time available.

It also means accepting that remote working is here to stay and making sure that it is available to everyone. Remote working is also a training and development opportunity in a world that increasingly does things digitally.