Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters Covid-19: healthcare workers’ mental health challenges

Covid-19: doctors must take control of their wellbeing

BMJ 2020; 369 doi: (Published 01 May 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;369:m1725
  1. Gemma Simons, clinical research fellow1,
  2. David S Baldwin, professor of psychiatry2
  1. 1Centre for Workforce Wellbeing, Academic Centre, College Keep, Southampton SO14 3DT, UK
  2. 2Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK
  1. c4ww{at}

There is never a good time for a pandemic, but covid-19 kicked doctors while we were down. Between 50%1 and 80%2 of us were already burnt out. We went on strike, left traditional training routes, and retired early, and now we are asked, and volunteering, to “doctor on.” In the year before covid-19, policy documents from the Society of Occupational Medicine,3 the BMA,4 Health Education England,5 and the General Medical Council6 recommended vital changes for our wellbeing. These are in danger of moving even further from implementation.

There is currently enormous goodwill towards the health professions, but the inadequate provision of personal protective equipment has made many clinicians feel that they and their families are considered “expendable.”7 We feel shame for thinking of ourselves rather than our patients and guilt for putting our families at risk. Many of us fear that we do not have the relevant background to manage teams in this situation. Not only this, but we risk moral injury through being asked to choose who should receive our limited resources.8

Covid-19 is not going to be weathered by a heroic sprint; it is an arduous marathon, which will continue long after it is no longer the prime concern. We must take control of our wellbeing and help colleagues to do the same. Repeatedly capturing data on how burnt out, anxious, depressed, or morally injured we are as a profession does not assist us in moving forward. We need an operational definition of wellbeing and a core outcome set of measures of wellbeing so we know when we have the optimum conditions to survive and thrive and can share how to achieve it.