DOCTORS working on the front line of the Covid pandemic have voiced their anger and frustration at being treated as "Covid cannon fodder" by the UK Government rather than heroes, new research has shown.

The study reveals the scale of the challenge faced by healthcare professionals over the last two years.

It is the first of its kind to capture the views of more than 1300 doctors in the UK and Ireland responding to Covid-19 since early 2020.

It has been authored by researchers from the Universities of Bath and Bristol, UWE Bristol and the Royal College of Emergency Medicine and paints a bleak picture of the multiple challenges doctors are facing.

It highlights dual issues of a worrying lack of support for doctors’ basic needs, such as insufficient places to rest, food to eat, and relentless shift patterns, and a significant lack of appropriate psychological support to help them decompress.

READ MORE: Shut schools a week early amid Omicron surge, union urges

Despite working at permanent maximum capacity, the medics told researchers of their frustrations at those not following public health advice, and towards the Government for failing to support them.

One senior doctor said: “I feel, at times, that I am considered totally expendable and that, if I die or become ill, not only will it have been preventable with political will, I will simply be an inconvenient statistic. I’m not a Covid hero, I’m Covid cannon fodder.”

A junior doctor said: “Knowing the Government was failing in so many ways to support us … failed Test and Trace, failed PPE procurement, weak messaging, permitted non-compliance with mask-wearing and distancing, set a poor example (Barnard Castle, etc).

“We as healthcare providers were alone and utterly unsupported, apart from the weekly round of applause that was a pointless gesture and felt like a kick in the teeth.”

Participants recruited for the study comprised frontline doctors who worked in emergency medicine, anaesthetics, and intensive care medicine in all parts of the UK and Ireland.

All genders, ethnicity and seniority levels were represented in the sample of 1379 participants who responded to a longitudinal survey asking them to answer freely “What has been most difficult about the pandemic?”

Analysis from the research group identifies four themes of feeling exposed and unprotected; the relentlessness of the virus; the “ugly truth” of the front line; and an overwhelmed system.

Lead researcher Dr Jo Daniels, a clinical psychologist at the University of Bath, said: “Some of the stories frontline workers told us about for this research are truly devastating: last moments spent trying to set up an iPad in time for a young mother to say goodbye to her children; wrestling to intubate agitated patients; family members watching loved ones die remotely via video-link.

“Added to this is the scale – the sheer number of frontline workers for whom these experiences have just become normalised – these results are truly shocking.

“We are seeing increasing levels of staff attrition, absenteeism, poor psychological health, and loss of life, yet frontline doctors are expected to just carry on.

“Despite the popular media narrative of healthcare workers being our Covid-19 heroes, many simply do not feel that way in terms of how they are being supported.”

READ MORE: Tory DWP minister's staff 'drank into the night' amid Covid-19 lockdown

These findings build on recent work from the same team, including a study which sought to quantify psychological distress experienced by emergency doctors during the pandemic.

Professor Edd Carlton, from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: “What is most worrying is that Covid-19 has compounded issues that were already commonplace pre-pandemic and now are putting a tangible strain on doctors’ own physical and mental health.

“As the NHS attempts to recover, this research shows that there needs to be a renewed focus on properly supporting doctors to protect their health and wellbeing so that they can be there for all of us when we most need them.”

The study, "It’s Been Ugly": A Large-Scale Qualitative Study Into The Difficulties Frontline Doctors Faced Across Two Waves Of The Covid-19 Pandemic, is published in the journal International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.