I hung up the phone and breathed a heavy sigh. My friend, a recently-qualified GP forced into performing almost-exclusive telephone consultations because of the Covid-19 pandemic, had called to check in with me. Recent developments in the health service were having a detrimental impact on both of our wellbeings.
It had been two days since health secretary Matt Hancock had announced to the nation that final-year medical students would be starting early on the wards as doctors. Bewildered by the announcement, the sentiment amongst most of my peers was one of nervousness, tempered by frustration. If we were starting early on the wards, when was he planning on telling us?
This frustration was dwarfed, however, by that of seeing my colleagues’ pleas for adequate PPE seemingly falling on deaf ears. As one of the thousands of newly-qualified doctors ready to imminently join the workforce, I echo the calls for urgent Government action. There is currently little confidence among healthcare workers that there is a well-established supply chain of PPE capable of making its way through to the frontline, nor that it will be of a sufficient standard once it arrives. Bolstering our workforce with thousands of recruits will prove redundant without providing them with sufficient protection.
Without support, protection and inductions, we risk ruining a new generation of doctors’ morale
Protection from the virus physically needs to be matched with appropriate support mentally. Starting your foundation training in ordinary circumstances can prove gruelling. Doing so amid a global pandemic brings with it the likelihood that many new doctors such as myself will succumb to moral injury.
We must all be given comprehensive inductions. Senior support needs to remain available and be easy to access. Appropriate safeguards and working protections must continue to apply. Without these things, we risk ruining a new generation of doctors’ morale from the outset of our careers.
All of this occurs within the context that the first cherished members of our NHS family, heroes working on the frontline, have sadly died from Covid-19. In the coming months and years as the health service recovers from the scathing impact of the virus, it is healthcare workers who will continue to bear the scars of working on the frontline, and the memory of those we have lost who will persist in our consciousness.
My friend’s call made me feel supported and valued. I know thousands of similar interactions will have taken place over the previous days and weeks – a chat over a cup of tea, a joke at the end of a difficult night shift, an offer to talk if it all feels too much. All visible human moments of kindness hidden amongst the turmoil caused by a microscopic enemy. I have no doubt that NHS staff will support one another as we always have done. Now, the Government needs to do the same.
Dr Stephen Naulls is a newly-qualified junior doctor, starting work in London