Psychological distress during the acceleration phase of the COVID-19 pandemic: a survey of doctors practising in emergency medicine, anaesthesia and intensive care medicine in the UK and Ireland

Tom Roberts, Jo Daniels, William Hulme, Robert Hirst, Daniel Horner, Mark David Lyttle, Katie Samuel, Blair Graham, Charles Reynard, Michael Barrett, James Foley, John Cronin, Etimbuk Umana, Joao Vinagre, Edward Carlton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


OBJECTIVE: To quantify psychological distress experienced by emergency, anaesthetic and intensive care doctors during the acceleration phase of COVID-19in the UK and Ireland. 

METHODS: Initial cross-sectional electronic survey distributed during acceleration phase of the first pandemic wave of COVID-19 in the UK and Ireland(UK: 18 March 2020–26 March 2020 and Ireland: 25 March 2020–2 April 2020). Surveys were distributed via established specialty research networks, within a three-part longitudinal study. Participants were doctors working in emergency, anaesthetic and intensive medicine during the first pandemic wave of COVID-19in acute hospitals across the UK and Ireland. Primary outcome measures were the General HealthQuestionnaire-12 (GHQ-12). Additional questions examined personal and professional characteristics, experiences of COVID-19 to date, risk to self and others and self-reported perceptions of health and well-being. 

RESULTS: 5440 responses were obtained, 54.3%(n=2955) from emergency medicine and 36.9%(n=2005) from anaesthetics. All levels of doctor seniority were represented. For the primary outcome of GHQ12 score, 44.2% (n=2405) of respondents scored >3, meeting the criteria for psychological distress. 57.3%(n=3045) had never previously provided clinical care during an infectious disease outbreak but over half of respondents felt somewhat prepared (48.6%, n=2653)or very prepared (7.6%, n=416) to provide clinical care to patients with COVID-19. However, 81.1% (n=4414)either agreed (31.1%, n=2709) or strongly agreed(31.1%, n=1705) that their personal health was at risk due to their clinical role. 

CONCLUSIONS: Findings indicate that during the acceleration phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, almost half of frontline doctors working in acute care reported psychological distress as measured by the GHQ-12.Findings from this study should inform strategies to optimise preparedness and explore modifiable factors associated with increased psychological distress in the short and long term

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)450-459
Number of pages10
JournalEmergency Medicine Journal
Issue number6
Early online date8 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 24 May 2021


  • Emergency department
  • distress
  • trauma

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