Covid-induced stress on doctors and nurses could leave them more prone to making medical errors, top expert suggests
- Professor Michael West said doctors face ‘very high levels’ of stress daily
- He warned this can raise the risk of serious medical errors occurring
- The NHS has about one in ten positions free – or 100,000 vacancies
Covid-induced stress placed on doctors and nurses may leave them more prone to making errors, a top expert has suggested.
Professor Michael West, a fellow of the British Psychological Society who studies mental health in healthcare workers, told MPs that staff in the NHS were already suffering from constant stress ‘and then the pandemic struck’.
One in ten jobs – or 100,000 – are vacant across the health service, leaving current nurses and doctors to pick up the extra strain and with pressures only likely to get worse over the winter months.
The second wave of the coronavirus outbreak will only squeeze nurses and doctors further, with more than half-a-million contacting its helpline in the eight months since the pandemic began.
Professor Michael West, a fellow of the British Psychological Society, told the Health and Social Care Committee stressed doctors are almost two thirds more likely to make mistakes
Speaking to Parliament’s Health and Social Care Committee, Professor West warned: ‘We know that doctors subject to very high levels of work demand chronically are between 45 and 63 per cent more likely to make a major medical error in the subsequent three months.
He added: ‘The fact that one in four nurses and health visitors leave the NHS within three years of joining it is deeply concerning.
‘And the fact that so many doctors are intending to leave the NHS is also deeply concerning.’
He told the session, which focused on burnout in doctors and nurses, that healthcare staff were around 50 per cent more likely to suffer debilitating levels of stress than those in other professions.
And he suggested that the situation has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.
It comes after a survey by the Nursing Times, and published in April, found nine in ten nurses felt more anxious or stressed than usual at the start of the outbreak.
Concerns about contracting the virus and the health of family and friends, as well lack of sufficient supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), were the most common reasons respondents gave for being more stressed or anxious.
In the session Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s National Mental Health Director, revealed more than £15million would be spent on mental health services for NHS nurses and doctors in ‘special winter support’.
‘(This is) to make sure in every part of the country for all NHS staff we’re launching a service that will get them rapid assessment and treatment, if they need it, for mental health conditions,’ she said.
Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s National Mental Health Director said £15million was being made available to fund a specialist mental health support service for NHS employees
She added that her arm of the health service had asked the surgery for another 20,000 staff members to enable it to see an additional 2million patients by the year 2023.
Baroness Dido Harding has refused to reveal how many additional doctors, nurses and support staff the NHS has asked the Treasury to provide funding for, insisting that this will only be published when the results of the Budget Review are announced in the Autumn.
The Health and Social Care Committee hearing was chaired by former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.