Canada’s medical doctors are calling on the federal government to be more open and transparent about the supply of personal protective equipment, saying pervasive anxiety on the front lines of the pandemic fight could be eased by more information.

The Canadian Medical Association recently conducted a survey of its physician members. It found the overwhelming majority of the nearly 2,500 doctors who responded are feeling stressed about the pandemic and its impact on their families and patients.

CMA president Dr. Sandy Buchman said more than a quarter of the doctors who participated in the survey said the problem of shortages of PPE has improved in the last three weeks — while another 25 per cent-plus said the situation has gotten worse. Roughly four in 10 of those surveyed saw little change either way.

Respondents also suggested that greater availability of medications for patients, better virtual care options and increased peer support would help ease their anxiety.

Acknowledging the government is going “full out” to procure protective gear, Buchman said little information about the status of supplies is trickling down to the front lines.

“We’re not hearing what’s coming down the pipeline in a clear and coordinated way,” Buchman told CBC. “Where is it? When do you anticipate it is coming to us, to our region, to our hospital?”

The federal government has been scrambling to secure badly-needed protective equipment — such as surgical-grade masks, gloves, gowns and face shields — by re-tooling domestic production lines and building international supply chains in an intensely competitive global field.

Buchman said doctors understand that governments are working hard to access PPE — but they’re still “gravely concerned” about their ability to provide care safely.

Buchman said that of the physicians who took part in the survey, about a third said they only had two days’ supply or less of key PPE items — or had already run out. Some reported having PPE that doesn’t fit properly or is falling apart.

The online survey was conducted between Apr. 20 and 21 by the CMA, which has about 75,000 members.

Buchman said that for doctors, not knowing when additional supplies might arrive is compounding the anxiety and stress.

The CMA also is pressing the government to ensure more testing is done, so that provincial governments can make decisions about reopening their economies and resuming more regular health care services based on the best possible evidence.

Right now, Buchman said, many doctors are dealing with “moral distress” — worrying about whether elderly and other vulnerable patients are getting proper care, and feeling anxious about patients whose surgeries and other treatments have been postponed due to COVID-19.

Watch: How health care workers are managing pandemic stress and anxiety

Many doctors also are struggling with separation from their loved ones. Many are living in hotels, or even garages, to ensure they don’t give the virus to a family member.

Buchman said doctors are trained to function in a crisis — but the stress the pandemic is imposing could have lasting consequences.

“We’re worried about the long-term effects, a kind of a PTSD thing after all this is over, particularly if they’ve faced some of the moral distress situations,” he said.

The online survey follows on one conducted by CMA at the end of March.

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