Dozens of surgeons have reported being told by the NHS employer to stop discussing shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the coronavirus crisis.
A third of surgeons said the supply of PPE was inadequate at their hospital, with many complaining of inconsistent guidance, rationing of supplies and poor quality PPE when it was available.
When asked if their concerns were dealt with satisfactorily, nearly a third said they were not addressed, or not effectively.
A survey of 650 surgeons by the union found many were now considering changes to the way they worked as a result of the crisis – with more than half, 380, saying they would be avoiding face-to-face meetings with patients in the future.
Just over 100 surgeons said they would be altering their surgical practice to avoid risky procedures that might generate virus-carrying droplets in the air.
More than 40 surgeons, around 7 per cent, said they were now considering leaving surgery altogether.
This comes as the NHS gears up to try and tackle a mounting backlog of delayed operations that could see waiting lists hit 10 million later this year. NHS bosses have instructed hospitals to get back to “near normal” within weeks.
This is viewed as unrealistic by many in the NHS who say they lack the capacity to increase activity because workforce shortages and stricter rules have slowed the pace at which they can work.
Professor John MacFie, president of the CBS and a consultant colorectal surgeon, said: “As representatives of the surgical community, it was imperative that we take its temperature and identify its most widespread views on the pandemic.
“Whilst many might not find some of their experiences and opinions on the subjects of – for example – PPE guidance and provision to be shocking, it has still been jarring to find that a third found their concerns ignored when they were raised, and more than a tenth were directed outright to drop the subject.”
He added: “The level of dissatisfaction with the lack of preparation for the crisis, and perceived disregard for healthcare workers’ safety was such, that one in twelve of all respondents are considering changing their discipline or leaving the field of surgery altogether. That, in fact, is a figure that should be horrifying to all.”
In the survey surgeons also said there was an urgent need for better preparation as well as the importance of using technology.
The CBS said many called for more scientific leadership over political leadership and wider investment to modernise IT systems.
The medics also called for reliable testing and criticised the current performance of the test and trace service.
Many also highlighted the issue of hospital sites being split into hot and cold, or Covid and non-Covid sites.
Nigel Mercer, a founding member of the CBS, added: “There is significant concern that the multiple changes made to guidance about Covid-19 testing, combined with the reluctance to regularly test NHS staff, significantly impact on maintaining ‘Covid lite’ pathways, which are essential to ensuring maximum safety for patients and staff.
“Combined with ongoing concerns about PPE and a potential second wave of Covid-19 in the autumn, it is clear that both patients and staff remain very concerned about post-surgery Covid security. Maximising new technology and especially testing and track and trace are essential for safety in perioperative care.”
The CBS was founded in 2018 to act as a union for all surgeons. More than 80 per cent of the 650 surgeons questioned had more than eight years’ experience, while two out of five had more than 18 years’ experience. The majority responding to the survey worked in general surgery, trauma and orthopaedics, plastic surgery and obstetrics and gynaecology.