What are we learning from the workforce about the impacts of COVID-19?

To date, the RCP has conducted three surveys of its members and fellows during COVID-19. The first on 1–2 April, the second on 22–23 April and the most recent one on 13–14 May.

The survey on 13–14 May asked members and fellows to tell us about:

  • 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 the turnaround time of results
  • if they were able to access the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • if assessments of individuals’ personal risk were being undertaken 
  • whether they were concerned for the health of themselves or their households.

Commenting on the results, RCP president Professor Andrew Goddard said:

“It is no wonder that clinicians are worried for themselves and their families, when the very things that would keep them safe – PPE and testing – are still hard to access for so many of them.

“We need to get those who have symptoms back to work as soon as possible so they need to be tested in good time – waiting 3-4 days for test results at a time like this is simply unacceptable.

“Given that so many staff have had to take time off work during the pandemic, we welcome plans to roll out antibody tests to them as soon as possible so that we can understand whether they have or haven’t had the virus.

“Employers must do more to help and reassure staff – giving them the confidence to fit check their own PPE should be the bear minimum.

“Clinicians are working incredibly hard in the most extraordinary circumstances the NHS has ever faced, but without the right safety measures in place, they’re still living in fear for their own health and the health of their families. Confidence in the system they work in is low and more must be done to regain that trust.”

The results

Headlines

  • 1,582 people responded to the survey, compared with 2,219 people 3 weeks ago.
  • To date, 37% of people report having taken time off work during the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • Of those who have had time off, 20% reported having confirmed COVID-19 with a further 39% suspecting that they had COVID-19.
  • Access to PPE remains an issue, with 19% of respondents reporting that they don’t feel that they currently have the PPE they need to wear for managing patients.
  • Fit testing remains an issue, with a third (33%) of clinicians reporting that they have not or are not able to get fit tested for the PPE they are using.
  • Only 18% report having had a formal risk assessment undertaken of their personal risk to COVID-19, with 11% reporting that this had happened informally, eg a colleague raising concerns with them.
  • Overall, 48% of respondents said they were either concerned or very concerned about their health. However, for those from BAME backgrounds, this rose to 76%.

Time off

Overall, less than 8% of respondents reported taking time off work, which corresponds with the previous survey. Of those taking time off work, 16% reported being off work with confirmed COVID-19 and a further 9% were off work with suspected COVID-19.

To date, 37% of people reported having taken time off work during the COVID-19 outbreak. Of those, 20% reported having confirmed COVID-19 with a further 39% suspecting that they had COVID-19. As antibody testing begins to be rolled out, there should be a focus on testing healthcare professionals who meet the criteria to allow staff to understand whether they have had COVID-19.

Testing

As with the last survey, respondents report progress with access to testing. However, the results show that members are still not always able to access testing for members of their households.

In addition to asking about access to testing, we also asked whether people had had a test in the past 2 weeks and how quickly they got their results back. 12% reported having had a test in the past 2 weeks. Of those, 17% reported receiving the results within 24 hours, 38% received them between 24–48 hours, 20% between 48–72 hours, 14% over 72 hours+ and 17% had not yet received their results at the time of the survey. These figures underline that further work is needed to reduce delays in getting test results back.

PPE

Access to PPE remains an issue. 19% of respondents reported that they don’t feel that they currently have the PPE they need to wear for managing patients.

In this survey we also asked, ‘Have you found yourself in a situation in the past 2 weeks where you haven’t been able to access the PPE that PHE advises?’. 16.5% agreed that they had been in such a situation. This varied across the regions, with 8% in the south west agreeing compared with 28% in the East of England.

There remain issues with a third (33%) of clinicians reporting that they have not or are not able to get fit tested for the PPE they are using. Additionally, 37% of clinicians reported not being confident about fit checking their PPE before entering patient-facing areas.

Risk assessments and concern for health

For the first time, we asked respondents to tell us whether they have had an assessment of their risk concerning COVID-19. Only 18% reported having had a formal risk assessment undertaken, with 11% reporting that this had happened informally, eg a colleague raising concerns with them.

Additionally, we asked respondents whether they were concerned for their health or that of a household member. Overall, 48% of respondents said they were either concerned or very concerned about their health. 76% of those from BAME backgrounds reported that they were concerned or very concerned about their health. Employers should therefore urgently undertake assessments of people’s risk. We are working with both the Faculty of Occupational Medicine and the Society of Occupational Medicine to produce a framework and tools that will help with risk assessment.

Respondents were also worried about the risk to their household members, with 61% reporting being concerned for the health of those they live with.

What we are doing

The RCP continues to raise the supply of PPE, risk assessments for staff and the need for improvements in testing at every opportunity. RCP president Professor Andrew Goddard and the senior officers continue to work closely with national NHS leaders across the UK, including the chief medical officers and national medical directors.

In addition, the RCP provides regular commentary in the media about the impacts of COVID-19. We have submitted evidence to numerous parliamentary select committees in the past few weeks and continue to liaise with MPs and peers.