The Medical Defence Union (MDU) is calling on policymakers and employers to ensure the NHS emerges from the pandemic with systems in place to support staff dealing with adverse incidents and burnout.
A recent survey by the MDU of 714 doctors who had faced a medico-legal investigation found nearly three quarters worry about being investigated again following an adverse incident.
As the UK marks a year since the first lockdown, the MDU is calling for the recommendations from two reports to be adopted by healthcare organisations. The reports, by the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch and the Royal College of Surgeons/Bournemouth University, recommend greater support for staff affected by patient safety incidents.
Writing in the latest edition of the MDU journal, MDU chief executive Dr Christine Tomkins explains:
"At the MDU, we see how deeply doctors can be affected by an adverse incident and their distress on the rare occasions that a patient is harmed. Of 714 doctors responding to an MDU survey who had been involved in a medico-legal investigation following an incident, 72% worried about being investigated again and a quarter suffered from stress or health problems. A quarter also considered leaving practice or left.
"Time and again in the wake of adverse incidents, we see clinicians involved who may be left unsupported when they are most vulnerable. To make matters worse, doctors often blame themselves for poor outcomes, even ones outside their control.
"Of course, patients and their families must be at the centre of our attention when something goes wrong during their treatment but we should not leave the doctor to cope with the aftermath alone - or worse, be made to feel stigmatised by their involvement. That is why we need healthcare organisations to foster a supportive culture focused on learning and openness rather than blame."
In the same issue of the journal, Dr Clare Gerada is interviewed about the impact of the pandemic on doctors' health and wellbeing and about her new book Beneath the White Coat: Doctors, Their Minds and Mental Health.
Dr Gerada, who heads the charity Doctors in Distress, reflects on the mental health crisis within the profession and encourages doctors who are struggling to get help.
The MDU and GP online surveyed 1,203 doctors in January and February 2021, of whom 714 (60%) reported being involved in a previous medico-legal investigation such as a complaint or claim.
This page was correct at publication on 23/03/2021. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.