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COVID-19 and the workforce: looking for signs of hope

The twelfth survey of RCP members and fellows during the COVID-19 pandemic was conducted as more of the population returns to normality and winter is on the horizon. It shows that, despite most having had some time off, doctors’ experience of working in the pandemic continues to take its toll on morale.

“Winter is coming - uncertain times. If not prepared it can go pear shaped and end up in a bad way. Our region is already feeling the pinch of increased numbers at the front end and struggling with social care. We remain optimistic and proud to be a part of NHS in fighting past, present and future waves of pressures and keep patients safe as much as humanly possible. I only hope Government recognises and re-enforces our workforce and supports us.” NHS consultant


  • Almost two thirds said they are feeling tired or exhausted with respect to work.
  • 94% had taken some time off, but even after that most were still feeling tired or exhausted. 92% were getting the sleep they needed at least some of the time, but men were more likely than women to get the sleep they needed all or most of the time.
  • A third said they would retire or were considering retiring in the next three years.
  • 99% had received both doses of a vaccine. A third had also had a booster and another third had arranged to receive it.
  • There continue to be long delays for some diagnostic testing, particularly for outpatients.
  • Trainees continue to be concerned about ongoing disruption to their training. The pandemic seems to have had more of a negative impact on core medical trainees than higher specialty trainees.
  • Just over a quarter said they did not feel at all prepared for winter and just over a third that their organisation did not feel at all prepared.

Current situation

As with our most recent surveys, the vast majority (93%) are working in their normal clinical area. Although in Wales, 14% were still working in a clinical area different to their normal practice due to the pandemic. Only 5% were currently taking time off work, mainly (35%) taking pre-booked holiday.


99% of respondents had received both doses of a COVD-19 vaccine: 100% in Scotland, 100% in Northern Ireland, 98.5% in London, 99% in the rest of England and 95% in Wales. 92% had the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. 33% had received a booster and 40% had arranged to have a booster.

Diagnostic testing

We asked about delays in diagnostic testing for inpatients and outpatients. Around three quarters said there were no delays for plain radiology or blood tests for inpatients. Around two thirds said the same for outpatients.

For inpatients, respondents were still experiencing long delays for clinical physiology (29%), nuclear medicine (17%) and endoscopy (14%). For outpatients, they reported long delays for clinical physiology (43%), endoscopy (34%), CT and MRI scans (25%), and nuclear medicine (24%).


Two thirds of trainees were concerned about ongoing disruption to their training. 24% understood it was unavoidable and 9.5% thought the experience of working in the pandemic had given them new skills.

Internal medical trainees (IMT) were more likely (30%) to say they were concerned but understood it was unavoidable compared to higher specialty trainees (HST) (21%). But 18% of HSTs said they were not concerned compared to 7.5% of IMTs.

IMTs were also more likely (59%) to say working in the pandemic had made them question medicine as a career than HSTs (44%). 19% of HSTs said it had reaffirmed their commitment to being a doctor.

Preparedness for winter

With just four weeks until the end of British Summer Time, we asked how prepared they and their organisation were feeling for winter. 27% said they felt not at all prepared and 57% somewhat prepared. 16% said fully or quite prepared, although this rose to 26% in Scotland. In Wales, 37% said they felt not at all prepared. Just over a third (36%) felt their organisation was not at all prepared for winter, but 52% said somewhat prepared.

We were pleased to find that 94% of respondents had taken some time off this year and a further 2% had arranged it. Only 2% said they wanted to but didn’t think they had enough staff or would be allowed the time.

We asked how they felt after having that time off. 50% said they were still tired, 26.8% were worried about returning, 22.5% were pessimistic and 20% were apprehensive. But 24.5% said they felt refreshed.

We then asked all respondents how they were feeling with respect to work. 61.5% said tired or exhausted, 36.5% demoralised and 32.5% pessimistic. But 25% said they felt supported and 20% felt determined.

Finally, we asked how often during the previous four weeks they got the amount of sleep they needed. 83% said they did most or some of the time and this was generally consistent across the UK. Men were almost twice as likely (12%) as women (6%) to get the sleep they needed all the time. Men were slightly more likely to get the sleep they needed most of the time (46%) than women (40%).

Career intentions

We reported recently that 27% of consultants expected to retire in the next three years. In this survey, 20% said they expected to retire in the next three years and 16% said ‘maybe’. This expectation was higher in England (20%) than in Wales (8%) and Scotland (17%), but lower than in Northern Ireland (23%).

About the survey

This survey of UK RCP fellows and members was conducted from 30 September and 4 October and had 866 responses. 92% of respondents were working in the NHS or health and social care more widely. Most were in England (89%). 78% were consultants, 8% higher specialty trainees, 4% SAS doctors and 4% physician associates. 49% were women and 49% men. 74% were aged between 36 and 60 years of age. 65% were British and 21% were a member of an ethnic minority. 11% were disabled or had a long term health condition. 58% had attended a state school.

Further information about our COVID-19 workforce surveys is available on our website.