Our fourteenth survey of RCP members and fellows during the COVID-19 pandemic shows that absence is now falling, but it follows a period in which most felt overwhelmed on at least one occasion. The available workforce remains the key factor, with the majority being asked to cover for colleagues at short notice.
- Across the UK, 7.5% of respondents were off work and 3.5% due to COVID-19. That included being ill themselves, self-isolating due to a household member or having been in contact with someone, or having to care for someone.
- 69% of respondents had felt overwhelmed at work during the past 3 weeks, with a fifth (20.5%) saying they had felt overwhelmed almost every day.
- 55% of respondents were asked to fill a rota gap at short notice at least once during the past 3 weeks, and 15% were on five or more occasions. 29% of trainees, locally employed and SAS doctors had been asked on five or more occasions.
- 7.5% said that they had been in a situation in the past 2 weeks where they had not been able to access the PPE that the UK Health Security Agency advises. But 13.5% felt that they didn’t have the PPE they needed to wear for caring for patients with COVID-19. In Wales, those figures rose to 9.5% and 17.5% respectively.
- 86% of respondents who needed it were able to access the testing they needed for themselves in the first 24 hours. 82% were able to access it for members of their household with symptoms and 95% for their patients in the same timeframe.
Across the whole of the UK, 7.5% of respondents were absent from work, 3% lower than in December. Of those, 40% were ill with confirmed COVID-19, compared to 13.5% in December, reflecting the much smaller number who were taking pre-booked holiday (29.5% compared to 43%). A further 3.5% had suspected COVID-19 and another 2.5% long COVID. 16% were ill with something other than COVID-19. Only one person was self-isolating because a household member had confirmed COVID-19, and one because someone in their household with symptoms was awaiting a test.
50% of respondents who were off work for any reason had been for a week or more, with 18% being off for more than two weeks. Similarly, among those who were off due to being ill, 49% had been off or a week or more and 17% for more than 2 weeks.
In London, 10% of respondents were absent, compared to 14% in December. Of those, 30.5% were ill with confirmed COVID-19.
57% of respondents were able to take planned time off over Christmas and the new year. 6.5% had planned to take time off but had to cover colleagues who were unable to work. 4.5% wanted to take time off but there weren’t enough staff to cover it, and 0.7% had a request denied.
In this survey, we asked respondents whether they had felt overwhelmed at work during the past three weeks and 69% said they had. 27.5% said they had felt overwhelmed once or twice during that period. A further 21.5% said they had felt overwhelmed once or twice a week, and a fifth (20.5%) said they had felt overwhelmed almost every day.
The situation was worst in Northern Ireland, with 62% saying that had felt overwhelmed either once or twice a week or every day. In England outside of London it was 43%, in London and Wales 37.5% and in Scotland 22%.
We also asked respondents whether they had been asked to fill a rota gap at short notice in the past three weeks. 55% said they had. This had happened on one occasion for 34.5% of respondents, on 2 occasions for 29.5%, on 3 occasions for 16% and on 4 occasions for 5%. 15% of respondents had been asked to fill a rota gap at short notice on 5 or more occasions. Almost a quarter (24%) had been asked to do this at least once while on annual leave.
Trainees, locally employed and SAS doctors were most likely to have been asked to cover rota gaps at short notice, with two thirds (62.5%) of those respondents saying they had been. 53.5% of consultants had been asked. Just 11% of consultants had been asked to cover a rota gap on 5 or more occasions, compared to 29% of trainees, locally employed and SAS doctors.
Access to COVID-19 testing
86% of respondents who needed it were able to access the testing they needed for themselves in the first 24 hours. 82% were able to access it for members of their household with symptoms and 95% for their patients in the same timeframe.
1% were unable to access testing for their patients despite trying. 3.5% were unable to access a test for themselves and 4.5% for members of their household with symptoms.
Infection prevention and control
Across the whole of the UK, 13.5% of respondents felt they didn’t have the personal protective equipment (PPE) they needed to wear for treating patients with COVID-19. 7.5% said they had been in a situation in the past 2 weeks where they had not been able to access the PPE that the UK Health Security Agency advises. These results were similar to those in our December survey.
The situation was again worse in Wales, with 17.5% saying that they didn’t feel they had the PPE they needed and 9.5% saying that they had not been able to access what UKHSA advised. In Northern Ireland the figures were 32% and 9%, and in Scotland 12.5% and 6%, although we received a low number of responses from these nations.
About the survey
We conducted this survey on 8-11 January 2022 and received 1,218 responses. 94% of respondents were working in the NHS or health and social care more widely. Most were in England (92.5%). 79.5% were consultants, 8.5% higher specialty trainees, 5% internal medicine trainees and 4% SAS doctors. The most common specialty worked in was geriatric medicine (15%), followed by respiratory medicine (10%) and cardiology (8%). 51% of respondents were women and 46% were men. 73.5% were aged between 36 and 60 years of age. 61% were White British. 11% were disabled or had a long-term health condition. 56% had attended a state school.
Further information about our COVID-19 workforce surveys is available on our website.