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Half of doctors not confident they can manage patient demand as NHS services resume, survey finds

by Awil Mohamoud
17 August 2020

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Half (52%) of primary and secondary care doctors have little to no confidence they will be able to manage patient demand once normal NHS services resume, the latest BMA tracker survey has found. 

The survey of 4,000 doctors across the UK, carried out between 6 and 12 August, also found that 43% of respondents believe that even without a second spike of Covid-19, it will take between three and 12 months for GP consultation to return to pre-pandemic levels of capacity, if not longer. 

For secondary care services, 59% of doctors said they believe it would take the same time period for outpatient appointments to return to normal, while 61% said the same for elective procedures and 47% for diagnostics. 

Two-thirds (66%) of respondents said it would take three months or longer for their workplace to clear the backlog of elective procedures created during the pandemic, while 65% said the same for outpatient appointments, and 55% for diagnostics.

Also, 65% of doctors said they were not confident that their local community services would be able to meet the additional demand. 

‘Second wave would be devastating’

NHS England performance figures for June 2020, published last week, showed that only 52% of patients, or 1.85 million people, had started NHS treatment within 18 weeks of being referred – the lowest figure since records began in 2007, and far below the standard 92% target. More than 50,000 people had also been waiting over 52 weeks for the start of their treatment, according to the data. 

Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: ‘These survey findings underline the sheer scale of the challenge for the NHS in the coming months, and the anxiety and concern felt by frontline doctors who are exhausted as they look ahead to what will likely be one of the most challenging times of their careers.

‘Staff are being told to begin to return to ‘business as usual’ – but they clearly have very little confidence this is achievable any time soon.

‘At the same time, they are really fearful of how the health service will cope if a second wave hits. A second wave would be devastating for the health service, especially if it arrived in winter and amid a potential flu outbreak.’ 

Last month (July), the Academy of Medical Sciences warned that the UK could see a ‘large resurgence’ of Covid-19 this winter, leading to 120,000 deaths, in a ‘reasonable worst-case scenario’, and exacerbating pressures on the NHS and social care.