Ulster Med J. 2021 Sep;90(3):151-156. Epub 2021 Nov 11.


Background: Evidence of initiatives to support General Practitioners (GPs) during the Covid-19 pandemic is scant.

Aim: To understand the impact of a novel method of providing support in the early stages of the pandemic.

Design and setting: A mixed-methods study of GPs working in a socially deprived area of Belfast.

Method: A survey was distributed to GPs who had attended a series of educational meetings at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey incorporated the Warwick Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale and questions about the virtual meetings. Follow-up interviews were undertaken with five GPs to further explore their lived experiences and their perceptions of the virtual support forum.

Results: The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in a measurable diminution of emotional well-being in GPs in North and West Belfast. Attendees rated a series of virtual meetings highly and described the following themes (and subthemes): a sudden traumatic change (emotional response, fight or flight, painful reminders of the status of general practice in the NHS); a coming together (stepping up to take responsibility, sharing of information, feeling of affirmation); reflections on what worked (calming facilitation, careful selection of speakers, creating the right atmosphere, ownership and autonomy) and building future direction (defining future direction, capitalising on lesson learned).

Conclusion: The virtual meetings harnessed the instinct to come together witnessed at the beginning of the pandemic, and as well as sharing valuable information, also provided emotional support along with a sense of comradeship, ownership and autonomy.

How this fits in: GPs did not feel included or supported at the outset of the pandemic. Coming together with fellow professionals was a welcome source of support. Professional support can be delivered using a virtual platform. Continued professional development is more acceptable than explicit emotional support, but when done well can bolster resilience and emotional well-being.

Keywords: COVID-19; General practice; emotional support; pandemic; peer support.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • General Practice*
  • General Practitioners*
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • SARS-CoV-2