Morale at ‘an all-time low’: Doctors feel unprepared for winter months, poll warns

Doctors believe the NHS is inadequately prepared for the winter months, a poll from the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has found.

The RCP is warning that one in three doctors believes the NHS is not ready for the challenges that lie ahead and medics also felt personally unprepared to deal with the upcoming pressures.

Many medics said in the survey they suffer from exhaustion and feeling demoralised, the RCP said.

The health service is bracing itself for what could be a difficult winter due to the ongoing challenges of COVID-19 mixed with the seasonal flu.

In the poll, which surveyed more than 800 doctors, eight out of 10 were consultants who work in the NHS – and of those, 36% said their organisation was not at all prepared for winter.

Some 27% of doctors said they were personally unprepared, and almost two-thirds said they were feeling tired or exhausted.

Overall, 37% of staff said they were demoralised and 33% felt pessimistic.

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In comments, one medic said that “morale in the workforce is at an all-time low”, while another said: “Can’t see an end to it.”

Another 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 reinforces our workforce and supports us.”

The RCP said there is an urgent need for a workforce plan to ensure there are enough staff for the NHS and social care now and in the future.

A report from the Academy of Medical Sciences from earlier this year highlighted that hospital admissions and deaths from the flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) could be more than double than a normal year, leading to almost 60,000 deaths from respiratory illnesses.

The government launched the biggest flu jab programme in the NHS’s history, with more than 35 million people in England eligible for a free vaccine, and COVID-19 booster jabs are also being rolled out.

Alongside the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, NHS Providers, NHS Confederation, Macmillan Cancer Support and others, the RCP has proposed an amendment to the Health and Care Bill that would strengthen workforce planning by ensuring that every two years the Health Secretary publishes independently-verified assessments of current and future workforce numbers consistent with the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) long-term fiscal projections.

Andrew Goddard, president of the RCP, 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.

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“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 said it wants more to be done immediately to improve the conditions under which doctors and other clinicians are working.

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