DOCTORS have shared their concerns about the strain the pandemic has placed on health care in a major survey by the British Medical Association.

The majority of doctors think ambitions to get the NHS back to near-normal service by autumn are unlikely to be realised, according to the trade union consultation of more than 3,000 doctors.

NHS England recently set targets to resume normal levels of activity over the next few months, but when asked by the BMA whether they thought these would be met, 70 per cent of those who responded said this was either highly (40 per cent) or fairly (30 per cent) unlikely.

Across the south central region of England this was slightly lower at 65 per cent but still the majority.

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Other results for the region, which includes Oxfordshire, were that 44 per cent of doctors said demand for non-Covid-19 care is back to, or now exceeds, pre-pandemic levels, with17 per cent saying demand ‘considerably exceeds’ levels experienced before the outbreak.

Almost half (44 per cent) also said they were ‘not at all’ or ‘not very’ confident about their own department or practice’s ability to manage patient demand as normal NHS services are resumed.

There were 32 per cent of doctors who believed they would never be able to, or that it would take longer than a year to clear any backlog or waiting list for elective procedures at their place of work, while 49 per cent were ‘not at all’ or ‘not very’ confident about their ability to manage patient demand if there is a second coronavirus wave.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: “These survey findings underline the sheer scale of the challenge for the NHS in the coming months, and the anxiety and concern felt by already exhausted frontline doctors as they look ahead to what will likely be one of the most challenging times of their careers.

Oxford Mail:

Dr Chaand Nagpaul

"Although staff are being told that the NHS will begin to return to ‘business as usual’ they have little confidence that it will be able to cope with the backlog of millions of patients left untreated during the first spike of the pandemic.”

He said doctors are ‘worried for their patients’ and the risk of conditions deteriorating as a result of further delays, given more than 50,000 patients are already waiting longer than 12 months for treatment.

Dr Nagpaul added: “At the same time, doctors are really fearful of how the NHS will cope if a second wave of Covid-19 hits, which could be devastating for the health service if it arrives in winter and amid a potential flu outbreak.

“We must do all we can to avoid another peak now, focusing on prevention, and maintaining clear, consistent public health measures and messaging.”

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He said the NHS ‘must learn lessons’ from the last few months, including making the most of technology and cutting down on ‘burdensome bureaucracy’ that takes doctors away from treating patients.

The doctor said it was also ‘vital’ to continue efforts to retain as many staff as possible, including those who have returned to the NHS during the pandemic.

He went on: “This pandemic has brought sharply into focus how underfunded and understaffed the health service has been in recent years. Now is the time to address this and properly fund the NHS, increase staffing numbers and give it the resources and capacity required to meet the needs of patients not just in the wake of a health emergency but in the long-term.”

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Diane Hedges, chief operating officer at Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “While the survey highlights views of doctors across the country and at regional levels, we expect that some of our local doctors will have taken part. OCCG recognise and are listening to their concerns together with our hospital and community trusts."

She added: "We are working closely with GPs and our primary care networks to ensure continued provision of GP services going forward in Oxfordshire while embracing some of the learning from Covid-19 such as the use of technology. Local GPs have done an amazing job of looking after and treating their patients through this unprecedented time as well as setting up safe Covid-19 clinics.”

Last week Oxfordshire Local Medical Committee, representing the county's GPs, demanded an end to a delay in restoring routine referrals to all specialist hospital services in Oxford.

They feared the move was putting patients at risk but Oxford University Hospitals Foundation Trust and the CCG said safety was the top priority.