Anaesthetists reveal concerns over PPE/anaesthetic drugs availability

A survey by the Royal College of Anaesthetists has found that access to testing has improved, but significant concerns remain around personal protective equipment and anaesthetic drugs availability.

Over one third (34%) of anaesthetists have low confidence in their hospitals’ preparedness for the restoration of non-COVID-19 NHS services. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to significantly affect anaesthetists’ welfare and wellbeing, with over four in ten (42%) of respondents experiencing mental distress and a third feeling physically unwell during the past month.

The College surveyed its full membership during a 24-hour period between 13 and 14 May 2020 and received approximately 1,500 responses from anaesthetists at all stages of their career and from across the UK. This follows on from a previous survey run in April. The new survey findings highlight areas of progress from a month ago, while still revealing some concerns among anaesthetists.

Access to testing for staff and patients has greatly increased over the last month and over three quarters of respondents are now confident that they can access testing as needed. However, the College commented that it is "concerning that some uncertainty remains about the ability to access testing for patients (17%), themselves (18%) and household members (31%)."

Despite efforts to stabilise PPE supplies over the last month, 56% of respondents continue to feel concerned around stocks and nearly 13% are finding themselves in a position where patient care is delayed due to a lack of access to PPE. Combined with concerns around sustained supplies of anaesthetic drugs – 27% are concerned about stocks in the coming month – these findings indicate that more resources are required in restoring non-COVID-19 services.

The percentage of respondents reporting having felt mental distress in the last month remains similar to in April (which was 40%), while 21% report team morale to be low or very low, illustrating the sustained toll the pressures of COVID-19 are taking on the well-being of anaesthetists. Despite this, 31% of respondents have reported difficulties in taking annual leave during the pandemic. This raises concerns over the capacity of anaesthetists to resume normal clinical work without time to rest and recover.

Responding to the findings of the survey, Professor Ravi Mahajan, President of the Royal College of Anaesthetists said: “As we move to the next stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is concerning that over one third of our members don’t feel that their hospitals are ready to resume non-COVID-19 services for patients. As outlined in our recent strategy document, anaesthetists will be key to restoring these services but this cannot be done safely if there is not enough staff capacity or resources to return to more normal clinical activity. 

“As well as feeling exhausted and burnt out, it is clear that anaesthetists are anxious around the long-term availability of PPE and drug supplies, despite the government taking positive steps to bolster stocks in recent weeks. Access to testing for staff, patients, and family members also remains a worry. Although some anaesthetists feel ready to return to normal clinical work, we cannot ignore these continued concerns that doing so may risk the safety of healthcare workers and patients. The College continues to encourage transparent communication on these issues so that healthcare workers are fully informed when making decisions around planned patient care.”