In April, when the coronavirus outbreak was at its peak in the UK and tearing through hospitals, junior doctor Rebecca Thornton’s mental health took a turn for the worse and she ended up having to be sectioned.
Even now, three months later, she cannot face going back to her job and thinks it will take her a year to recover from some of the horrors she saw while working on a Covid ward in a deprived area of London.
“It was horrendous,” Thornton recalls. “It’s so harrowing to watch people die, day in, day out. Every time someone passed away, I’d say, ‘This is my fault’. Eventually I stopped eating and sleeping.”
Thornton’s case may sound extreme but her experiences of working through Covid are far from unique. More than 1,000 doctors plan to quit the NHS over the government’s handling of the pandemic, according to a recent survey [from the Doctors’ Association UK], with some citing burnout as a cause.
And as early as mid April, YouGov polling for the IPPR thinktank found that 50% of 996 healthcare workers questioned across the UK said their mental health had deteriorated since the virus started taking hold of the NHS. Meanwhile, latest sickness rate data for NHS staff in England found that April had the highest levels of sickness absence since data was first collected in 2009. Anxiety, stress, depression or other psychiatric illnesses were the most reported reasons for absence, at 20.9%, compared with about 14% each for respiratory problems, colds and flu, and infectious diseases. Data for the months following is yet to be released.
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