View from the frontline

Our volunteer Charles Holden and his colleague Gina Allen report rapid change and uncertainty in hospitals, but a deep willingness to help however possible

Over the last few weeks things have been turned on their heads for junior doctors: exams and courses cancelled, interviews indefinitely postponed, and new rotas with different working hours imposed. We don’t yet know how severe the impending Covid-19 crisis will be, but the atmosphere in our hospitals has completely changed.

Doctors who were counting down the days before they could rotate out of a job have been told they’ll have to stay. Those of us with experience in A&E or ITU are on standby, and we could be called upon at any moment to move jobs as the number of ventilated patients rises sharply. We don’t know if we’ll still take up new posts moving across the country in August.

You’d expect this uncertainty to spark protest and outrage but that isn’t what we’ve seen. The crisis has been met with a willingness to deploy the skills and experience we have in the most effective way possible to save lives. This altruism permeates and extends throughout our profession – there are even medical students volunteering to help as HCAs in the isolation area of A&E.

As we write this, the crisis is only just beginning. At this stage there is the manpower and energy to staff our rotas. Once the virus takes hold it will be our families, friends and colleagues that will become sick too. Indeed, there are two ENT consultants currently in ITU after exposure having carried out aerosol-generating procedures.

In the short term, changing shift patterns and sickness will strain our positivity and resilience. With limited leave and all but essential travel restricted, we can’t take time off to care for our unwell relatives. We will regularly see and care for severely unwell and dying patients. Although our mental wellbeing will be tested, we must care for one another, being ever mindful of possible burnout and fatigue. After the SARS outbreak in China many healthcare workers reported post traumatic stress disorder.

Many of our friends, partners and relatives outside the field of medicine are realising that the financial impact of this crisis will be enormous. While doctors who are substantively employed should be financially protected, locum doctors without contracts may well experience financial hardship due to illness or self-isolation. As a profession, our physical and mental health is certainly at risk.

The RMBF offers support for doctors facing hardship due to illness, injury, disability of bereavement and may be able to help – so please get in touch if you are affected in the coming weeks and months. And if you are able, there’s really never been a better time to donate.

Charles Holden (ENT Junior Doctor) and Gina Allen (CT2 Anaesthetics)