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Managing the Mental Health Effects of the Second Wave

Over the last several months, the Confederation has been working steadily to help support the needs of surgeons and their families during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the UK entered its third lockdown.

While we continue to be impressed by the dedication and immense work being undertaken to meet the challenges of the pandemic, as well as the tremendous backlogs of delayed surgical procedures - we are mindful of the toll these efforts have taken, and continue to take upon our surgical colleagues, as well as our colleagues across the healthcare sector.

We are also conscious that many of our colleagues are suffering not just from the effects of burnout, but from frustration – especially toward irresponsible individual practices and inadvisable Government policies that have not only prolonged the UK’s current situation, but exacerbated it.

Policies that not only allowed, but encouraged households to mix as though the virus would take a day off for Christmas have felt incredibly demoralising to many medics, particularly when many had continuously warned about hospital capacities in the winter months.

While the surge of cases brought about by lax policies has, in many regions, now begun to ease, slowing admission rates, we recognise that vast numbers of medical staff have worked with little (if any) ease in these restrictive and challenging conditions, and many are finding it difficult to cope.  

Recent coverage in the Guardian newspaper made it public knowledge that nearly half of NHS critical care staff had reported suffering PTSD, depression or anxiety as a result of working on the front lines – but these headlines did not reflect that the data was generated months before, between June and July in 2020, after the April peak, and before hospitalised cases of the coronavirus surged past the previous peak.

While we know it may seem like a broken record, it is vital that we reiterate the importance of self-care: as many medics have stated, even in non-pandemic conditions, prioritising the care of others can be a difficult habit to break; and under the current conditions, doing so can be harder, as our compassionate natures encourage us to support loved ones and colleagues even when a break is most needed.

Taking time to rest, eat healthily, exercise, spend time in nature or in spiritual practice are each aspects of wellness that may be deprioritised in times of ongoing stress, but some or all are crucial to maintaining the multiple dimensions of well-being, and encouraging the self-compassion we each need.

Additionally, we recognise that one year into the pandemic, some of our colleagues may be facing more complex issues in addition to the shared professional challenges that have, to some degree, become normalised.

This process of normalising the abnormal can make it less straightforward to identify a tipping point where overwhelm and exhaustion become something more serious. We therefore urge surgeons and all healthcare workers who are struggling to seek out professional support if necessary, and we encourage individuals to regularly check in with colleagues.  

While there are some national offers aimed at relieving NHS workers, it is worth checking in with local services who may be providing more practical help, such as rides to or from work, grocery delivery, and more.

Duty To Care is one organisation that has been established to provide free online therapy and wellbeing treatments such as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), meditation, mindfulness, and yoga. They also provide free access to nutritional therapists and personal trainers.

We would also like to encourage those who have not had a chance yet to read our October blog on managing moral injury, which discusses strategies for mutual support among medics, and further offers preventative strategies and a framework for employers to help support medical staff.  

As always, we invite you to share your views and comments to our social media platforms @UKsurgeons; and encourage you to spread the word about CBS to encourage awareness and membership to your colleagues. For more information on becoming a CBS member, click here.


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