Your BMA: self-care

by Latifa Patel

Only if we look after ourselves can we do the same for patients

Location: UK
Published: Friday 21 January 2022
Latifa Patel

It’s that time of year again. The new year is stretching out ahead of us and you may be reflecting on the year that has passed and the things you might like to change in the coming months.

For 2022 I have decided to make a resolution that I will try to stick to, and I would like to encourage healthcare staff and their leaders and organisations who hold sway over their lives to do the same.

My new year’s resolution is to focus on well-being. To really, and seriously, look after myself. It is nearly two years since the onset of this pandemic and I don’t think any new year’s resolution could be any more important.

A BMA survey at the end of November revealed the extent of the daily pressure staff in the NHS are under. Three quarters of hospital doctors said they had experienced increased delays to discharge and more than 80 per cent said they had seen more delays to admission.

Eighty per cent said they were more concerned patients may suffer avoidable harm owing to delays. Forty per cent of doctors asked how confident they were about their department or practice’s ability to manage demand during winter said they were not at all confident and a further 38 per cent said they were not very confident.

Our surveys are backed up by the anecdotes we are hearing at the BMA. From the doctors who feel the risk they are managing is overwhelming, to the staff being told to work despite testing positive for COVID on lateral flows.

Our members’ experiences tell the story of a profession that is burned out – a workforce that is stressed and broken.

The workload and the day-to-day struggles in our hospital wards, community services and GP practices would be difficult enough, but we’ve all had to deal with this pandemic on a personal level, as well.

I, personally, have found these 22 or so months tough. During the pandemic I found out I was pregnant, and I was instructed to work from home. I felt isolated and locked in just like many of our clinically vulnerable patients and their families that I was looking after while working as a paediatric respiratory junior doctor.

As a pregnant woman I shared their fears of going outside, of catching COVID, I worried about my baby and I being more vulnerable owing to my minority ethnic background and then there were months of uncertainty and confusion around whether it was safe, or encouraged, for people in my situation to have the vaccine.

Quite soon after beginning maternity leave, I also unexpectedly had to step up to become a chief officer at the BMA. I have tried to do the best by our baby and family all while grappling with being a new mum during a pandemic, during lockdown and balancing this against ensuring we represent our members. It’s been quite a challenge.

Only if we look after ourselves – if we are looked after – can we do the same for our patients. Only if we lead nourishing lives, if we can find a work/life balance and have the time and health to connect with the things we love, can we provide the sort of care and compassion that drove us into this vocation.

If you are struggling, please reach out. I’m personally contactable by email – [email protected] – and Twitter and the BMA has wonderful support to offer. You can call our First Point of Contact teams and we have free and confidential 24/7 counselling and peer support services open to all doctors and medical students regardless of BMA membership and their dependants.

Your well-being is so important to us. Please do not suffer in silence and please look after yourself. And if there is anything your BMA can do to help – tell us.

Dr Latifa Patel is interim chair of the BMA representative body