Intended for healthcare professionals


Covid-19: Government failed to protect doctors during pandemic, BMA inquiry finds

BMJ 2022; 377 doi: (Published 19 May 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;377:o1235
  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. The BMJ

The UK government failed in its duty of care to protect doctors and other healthcare staff from avoidable harm and suffering in its management of the covid-19 pandemic, a major review by the BMA has concluded.

Two reports12 published on 19 May document the experiences of thousands of UK doctors throughout the pandemic, drawing on real time surveys carried out over the past two years, formal testimonies, data, and evidence sessions. The reports will form part of a wider review by the BMA into the government’s handling of the pandemic, with three further instalments to come.

The evidence lays bare the devastating impact of the pandemic on doctors and the NHS, with repeated mistakes, errors of judgment, and failures of government policy amounting to a failure of a duty of care to the workforce, the BMA said.

Chaand Nagpaul, BMA chair of council, said, “A moral duty of government is to protect its own healthcare workers from harm in the course of duty, as they serve and protect the nation’s health. Yet, in reality, doctors were desperately let down by the UK government’s failure to adequately prepare for the pandemic, and their subsequent flawed decision making, with tragic consequences.

“The evidence presented in our reports demonstrates, unequivocally, that the UK government failed in its duty of care to the medical profession.”

Burnout and distress

Testimonies from doctors reveal fears and anxieties about shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) and a lack of risk assessments and show that the pandemic seriously affected their mental and physical health.

“Many doctors were left unprotected due to critical shortages of PPE as coronavirus hit our shores, resulting in healthcare professionals becoming infected at a higher rate than the rest of the population,” said Nagpaul. “Hundreds of healthcare workers lost their lives after contracting covid-19. And 95% of doctors who died in April 2020 were from an ethnic minority, a figure which demands that the UK government addresses the deep race inequalities afflicting our NHS workforce.”

The reports, which will form part of the BMA’s submission to the upcoming UK covid-19 public inquiry, also highlight the burnout, overwork, distress, trauma, and isolation that doctors endured from working during the pandemic.

They also make key recommendations for improving future pandemic preparedness, such as addressing the “chronic underinvestment” in services that left the UK ill prepared for tackling covid. Attention should be paid to ensuring sufficient levels of PPE, testing, public health capacity, and staffing to handle future crises, they advised.

Nagpaul added, “The lessons from this review need to be learnt and acted on now—given that new variants, new viruses, or future surges of demand can happen swiftly. We must never see a repeat of doctors and healthcare workers left exposed and vulnerable, and we can never afford to see another disaster on this scale ever again.”

This article is made freely available for personal use in accordance with BMJ's website terms and conditions for the duration of the covid-19 pandemic or until otherwise determined by BMJ. You may download and print the article for any lawful, non-commercial purpose (including text and data mining) provided that all copyright notices and trade marks are retained.