The government and the private health services must already plan for psychological and psychiatric support for doctors in the Covid-19 pandemic to prevent a major exodus in the sector or to “suffer in silence”.
This is evident from a poll conducted by the Medical Protection Association among 346 of its members in South Africa.
According to Medical Protection, the plans will need to include specialist psychological and psychiatric support for those with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as measures to ensure that the system has the capacity to help those in need of treatment or time to recover. to staff shortages or patient care.
In a poll conducted from May 18 to May 29, 32% of 346 doctors said their psychological well-being was weaker than in the previous two weeks.
Only 18% indicated that they were doing better and 50% said their psychological well-being was the same.
Doctors identified the following issues that had the greatest impact on their well-being: concerns about the health of family members and friends (60%), finances (54%), their own health (42%), the health of their patients (40%) ), family or household responsibilities, and a shortage of work (both 39%).
The association has more than 32,000 members among healthcare professionals in South Africa and more than 300,000 worldwide.
Dr. Volker Hitzeroth, legal consultant for Medical Protection, said in a statement on Monday that adrenaline is going to carry many health workers through the pandemic and help deal with it “despite the exhaustion and tragedy they are experiencing daily”.
“This is when the crisis first recedes and there is time to think that the accumulated stress and trauma may emerge – this is when health workers are most at risk and in need of support. The government and private health care providers should be actively planning for this time now. ”
According to Hitzeroth, several support measures will be needed, with some having unresolved anger or fear of retaliation for inability to treat patients without Covid-19.
“Others may suffer from depression or PTSD and many are at risk of burnout against the backdrop of a workforce that is already burnt out. Possible regulatory consequences or prosecution are also an underlying threat to anyone treating Covid-19 patients, which only further adds to the psychological burden on health care workers. ”
Hitzeroth says if no action is taken now, doctors will burn out and become disillusioned or have to deal with chronic psychiatric conditions.
“They are putting themselves, their families and patients at risk and unfortunately many others may decide to leave the profession.”