College calls for action to support wellbeing of NHS workers

Professor Jackie Taylor, the President of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, has published a three-point plan to keep Scotland’s doctors and health professionals healthy as we reach the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

College calls for action to support wellbeing of NHS workers

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Professor Jackie Taylor, the President of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, has published a three-point plan to keep Scotland’s doctors and health professionals healthy as we reach the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Writing in The Herald today (Wednesday 29th April), Professor Taylor sets out a three-point plan to ensure that NHS staff can stay healthy and continue to provide the best possible care for patients. She’s called for a continuation of the good work that’s been carried out by NHS organisations to instil a “can-do” attitude in the Health Service as it has prepared for the current health crisis, in addition to implementing:

  • A commitment that new practical measures to protect staff wellbeing in hospitals during the current health crisis will be made permanent. These facilities include new rest rooms for staff and 24-hour catering facilities in hospitals
  • The appointment of a National Clinical Lead with responsibility for Wellbeing across NHS Scotland, supported by a structure of non-executive directors on each Health Board accountable for Wellbeing
  • The development of a “Practitioner Health Programme” for Scotland. This would mirror the approach taken by NHS England, which currently operates a free, confidential NHS service for doctors and dentists across England with mental illness and addiction problems

Speaking after the publication of her proposals, Professor Taylor said:

“It’s been humbling to watch the outpouring of love from the general public in response to the outstanding work being carried out on a daily basis by doctors and other NHS staff during this crisis. I know that I can speak for us all when I say thank you from the bottom of our hearts for coming together to show your support for essential workers each Thursday evening.

“This exceptional emotional support only underlines how much we are all interconnected. Healthy doctors and improved staff wellbeing improves quality of care, patient safety and patient satisfaction for all. That’s why we must all be concerned about our doctors’ wellbeing.

“Even before this crisis arose, half of doctors in the UK reported work-related stress, a quarter reported high degrees of burnout, while every three weeks a doctor in the UK commits suicide. Research published last week showed that stress has inevitably increased over the past two months as staff are working in unfamiliar places with different teams, while at the same time dealing with emotionally draining conversations on a daily basis.

“Half of those questioned last week said their mental health had deteriorated during this crisis, while 49 percent have worries about their family’s safety because of a lack of testing and protective equipment. 43 percent are concerned about the ability to ensure that our patients receive high-quality care given the pressure the health service is currently under.
“We owe it to our staff, not to pay lip service to their health and wellbeing, but to provide them with coordinated and compassionate care that they will require in the aftermath of this pandemic. To do otherwise is to fail them.

“If implemented, the proposals I’ve suggested today would go a long way to embedding the positive changes we’ve seen recently within the NHS, and would ensure that there is a practical solution to support the emotional backing we’ve all received from our patients and the public at large.”

The full text of the proposals to be published from Professor Jackie Taylor, President of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow in The Herald on 29th April is as follows:

“Physician heal thyself” is a proverb which can be interpreted in many ways.

I like to think of it as a reminder to doctors of the importance of “healing”, or looking after their wellbeing, so that we can provide the best possible care to our patients. There are very real concerns about the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing will have on the nation’s physical and mental health, and doctors are affected by these factors as much as anyone else. In addition, we are also dealing with physically and emotionally demanding workloads, with additional concerns about personal protective equipment and our personal safety. The long-term and cumulative psychological effects of this sustained high level of stress should not be underestimated. It is right that we should be concerned about doctors’ wellbeing.

A survey published last week showed worrying trends in the mental health of healthcare workers since the start of the pandemic. Half of those questioned said their mental health had deteriorated in this time: 49 percent have worries about their family’s safety because of a lack of testing and protective equipment, while 43 percent are concerned about the ability to ensure that our patients receive high-quality care given the pressure that health and social care services are currently experiencing.

These issues are worrying not just because we have a responsibility to care for each other, but because we know from research that improving staff wellbeing improves quality of care, patient safety and patient satisfaction.
My request is that society remembers the selfless contribution of doctors, and indeed all healthcare professionals, during this crisis and that we will make their wellbeing a priority.

This will require effort, resources, a clear framework and leadership.

The response to COVID-19 has also resulted in many positive changes within the NHS. I’ve seen incredible team working, the breaking down of silos, the manifestation of a “can-do” attitude across the health service, all combined with a real sense of purpose and belonging. These are all recommendations from many reports on how to improve institutional wellbeing.

Not only have we redesigned how healthcare is delivered in a matter of weeks, we’ve also witnessed the much-needed implementation of essential measures such as rest areas and refreshments for staff, things which were seen as impossible just a few weeks ago. Once the COVID-19crisis is over, we must build on new ways of working and on all that has been achieved. The COVID-19 epidemic, while undoubtedly placing incredible strain on doctors’ wellbeing, may yet be a catalyst for its salvation.

Until now, wellbeing has been everybody’s business, but no one’s responsibility. The whole agenda in Scotland has been diluted by a lack of structure, and in particular by the failure to develop a coordinated, nationwide programme of services for doctors with mental health issues.

The appointment of a National Clinical Lead with responsibility for Wellbeing across NHS Scotland could achieve a great deal. We know that doctors often fail to seek help when they require it, and the development of a “Practitioner Health Programme”, mirroring the excellent service provided for our colleagues in NHS England, is now essential.

We owe it to our staff, not to pay lip service to their health and wellbeing, but to provide them with coordinated and compassionate care that they will require in the aftermath of this pandemic. To do otherwise is to fail them. Sometimes physicians cannot heal themselves.


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