The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh has said that in order to maintain patient safety in the NHS, Scotland’s healthcare workers must be protected.

The College is calling for the Scottish Government to set up a task force, to assess the short, medium and long term health and wellbeing impact of COVID-19 on healthcare workers.

The remit of the task force should include investigating whether adequate resources - especially time, staff and equipment - are available to maintain service activity, whether related to COVID-19 or not, taking into account the significant clinical demands of infection control, increased patient demand and different working practices during the pandemic.

The impact of the pandemic on The Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Act – which was passed in 2019 to ensure staffing levels that provide safe, high quality health and care services – must also be examined.

The College’s call comes on World Patient Safety Day (17 September), which has a slogan this year of “safe health workers, safe patients”. The campaign seeks to highlight and recognise health workers’ efforts to provide safe healthcare every day for their patients in the UK and around the world.

In October 2019, before the pandemic, 69% of the 8,656 doctors who responded to the UK annual physicians’ census that said that working conditions had affected their morale. Morale at work is a vital part of anybody’s wellbeing.

The College is also using World Patient Safety day to highlight the importance of nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPIs), which are actions, apart from getting vaccinated and taking medicine, that people and communities can take to help slow the spread of coronavirus. This includes ensuring that everyone keeps their hands clean, and using a tissue or one’s elbow to catch coughs and sneezes.

Professor Angela Thomas, Acting President of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, said:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been, and continues to be, a challenging period for healthcare workers.

They have each played their vital part in helping the NHS manage the pandemic, sometimes at the expense of their own personal wellbeing and professional development.

The College has helped support healthcare workers through our COVID-19 hub and webinars, which provide free access to online wellbeing and support, advice, guidelines, research and updates.

But at this juncture, our thoughts must turn to how we can support the profession to continue the fight against COVID-19, while protecting their time to train, time to research and time to develop their knowledge and skills.

There must be recognition from government that the people who care for the nation’s health – our healthcare workers – must themselves be cared for, in terms of their physical and emotional wellbeing.

We’re also using World Patient Safety day to highlight the importance of personal and respiratory hygiene as measures to help stop the spread of coronavirus. This is vital particularly given the recent rise in COVID-19 infections over recent weeks.”

  1. Read Focus on Physicians: 2018–19 Census here.

Lisa Rooke

Contact: Lisa Rooke 0131 247 3688