DocHealth making vital impact for doctors’ mental health

DocHealth is our confidential psychotherapeutic support service provided in partnership with the BMA, open to qualified UK doctors of any grade or speciality.

Based on a self-referral model, the service has grown year-on-year since its launch in 2016, with nearly 400 doctors receiving help in 2020-21.

Talking to Tony Garelick, DocHealth’s Clinical Director, you get a real insight into what doctors have been through over the past few years. “The key thing is the exhaustion,” says Tony. “People have been working at their absolute capacity. They only have to have an adverse event in their personal or work life – say the death of a parent – and it pushes them over the edge. Whereas before they might have coped, now it can overwhelm them.”

“Another cohort have been traumatised by the number of deaths,” he adds. The fact that relatives were not allowed into hospitals meant that all the emotional support fell to doctors and nurses. Covid protocols made already-tough situations more difficult: doctors were having to break the news of a death over the phone, often to the family of a patient they had not even directly treated.

Having to compromise

Patient aggression has also been an unwelcome factor. “Doctors have been working at capacity, yet they have faced enormous emotional stress from their patients and the relatives.” Patients waiting hours in A&E are often taking out their frustrations on the doctors, and relatives who feel excluded from their loved one’s care can become paranoid and angry.

“I think the other very stressful thing is that, by and large, doctors are high achievers and perfectionists,” reflects Tony. “The high demand means they are having to compromise, and to do less in terms of clinical management than they feel they could in normal circumstances. Many find that difficult.”

At a glance: issues DocHealth offers help with

  • Relationship difficulties at work and at home
  • Burnout and work/life balance
  • Bullying or harassment
  • Communication difficulties
  • Adjustment difficulties
  • Examination stress
  • Inquiry/clinical incident stress
  • Trauma past or present
  • Bereavement/loss
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

A challenging time

Tony highlighted another quality that sets DocHealth apart and makes it so well-suited to a challenging time like the present: “We work on the principle that it’s not easy for doctors to seek help.” There is no triage or waiting list: everyone who rings up has a first consultation within two to three weeks.

All clients are exclusively self-referral, and most significantly, there are no reports to GPs or Trusts – the service is truly confidential and independent, helping overcome the stigma doctors may feel in seeking help. Another key and unique aspect of the service is the clinical team. These are all experienced medical consultants, specialists trained in psychiatry and psychotherapy, meaning that doctors are speaking to someone who understands the pressures of the job.

The service is provided in partnership with the BMA, but donations from the RMBF’s supporters directly fund those who might otherwise not be able to pay for support elsewhere, and Tony says this has played a huge part in its success. “DocHealth wouldn’t exist without the RMBF and its supporters. They are what helped the service get off the ground.”

Reaching more doctors

Number of doctors helped by DocHealth per financial year

A bar chart showing the number of doctors helped by DocHealth in the four most recent financial years. The figures are: 179 in 2017-18; 214 in 2018-19; 221 in 2019-20; and 392 in 2020-21.

Feeling looked after

“Doctors, by and large, don’t feel looked after. They do feel looked after in DocHealth,” Tony concludes. “They feel they are being listened to by someone who knows the medical world from the inside, which has a powerful effect. And the contribution from the RMBF and its supporters has facilitated that.”

Thanks so much to Tony for taking the time to speak to us. To find out more about the service or to arrange an appointment, visit the DocHealth website.

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