More than half of frontline NHS workers 'unable to cope' with stress brought on by coronavirus, ITV News survey shows

  • Video report by ITV News Health Correspondent Emily Morgan

The nation has collectively come together to support, thank and cheer our NHS and rightly so.

I have spent time in hospitals over the last few weeks and spoken of how privileged I feel to be able to tell their stories from the frontline.

But what if those members of staff don't actually get the physical and mental support they really need?

What if they themselves feel so overwhelmed and anxious by what they are doing that they suffer from the most crippling mental health problems?

The tragic thing is there's no 'if' about it, many NHS staff right now, do feel precisely that.

ITV News has done a survey, in conjunction with The Doctors' Association, on the mental health of NHS staff and the results are startling.

Some 57 per cent of those frontline workers who responded said they felt so stressed that they were unable to cope due to increased pressures from Covid-19.

A worrying 11 per cent had experienced suicidal thoughts and a very small proportion (3.4 per cent) had self-harmed.

I suppose in many ways we shouldn't be surprised by these figures, we are in the midst of a vicious pandemic and those on the frontline are taking the brunt of the storm.

But, what is surprising and hugely depressing is that nearly half of them (47 per cent) said they're are not being adequately supported.

For a government that conceded mental health services were under resourced two years ago, this is appalling.

Many of the comments posted on the survey are heart-breaking.

Workers talk of not being able to sleep, of being terrified, being exhausted, of crying daily and one talks of being like lambs to the slaughter, another claims they will leave the profession the moment the pandemic is over.

Rosie Doyle, who has suffered from mental health problems before, is a healthcare assistant who works on a covid-acute ward.

She told us she’s been overwhelmed on several occasions by the amount of patients she has had.

She’s been forced to isolate alone outside of work and therefore doesn't have the usual coping mechanisms in place when she’s had a tough day.

Kirstie Hill, an ICU nurse who has had some mental health issues before covid, is having similar problems.

She says isolation has meant she's had some very dark days on her own, which have recently become unmanageable.

The emotional toll of treating many, many critically ill patients on her is immense.

Sadly, our survey reveals these stories are not unique.

The Laura Hyde Foundation, a charity which supports healthcare staff with their mental health, says NHS workers deserve better support.

They want every Trust to have a mental health champion sitting on its board (why isn't there one already?!).

They also want consistent care across the country.

Imogen Landers, from the charity, says the type of care given should not be dependent on how good line managers are.

The government says they are trying to help. NHS England have set up a new support service for those in need, Clare Murdoch, the national mental health director says it's being used by thousands of workers every week.

She went on to suggest those having suicidal thoughts or who are self harming should speak to a colleague.

But is this enough?

Should the onus be on staff, who are already overwhelmed and anxious, to report themselves?

Many I've spoken to feel there needs to be far more individual care, and assessments of all those on the frontline.

I have spent a matter of days on the frontline and I was shocked at the pressure and stress staff were under.

I cannot imagine how each and everyone of them copes going back hour after hour, day after day, week after week.

If our survey makes just a small impact on government or leads to just small changes, they will some say, be changes long overdue.

Dr Natalie Ashburner, of The Doctors' Association UK, said: "It is critical that we remember that healthcare workers do not have superpowers. They are people with their own families and private lives and will have been affected as much as the rest of the population by the lockdown and lack of their usual coping strategies.

"The 'hero' rhetoric that we have heard so much of in the media, whilst appreciated, does little to support the mental wellbeing of staff who feel unable to speak out about their difficulties.”

In a statement to ITV News, NHS England National Mental Health Director Claire Murdoch said: "More than a million NHS staff are currently fighting the biggest healthcare challenge in generations, so extra support is both needed and available including offering NHS mental health care and support within trusts, and new text, online and telephone support services which have already been used by thousands in their first week.”

"I would urge anyone feeling suicidal or self-harming to come forward to a colleague, your occupational health team or our helpline so that we can get you the help and support you need."

  • NHS staff wishing to seek support can do so by clicking here

  • The NHS mental health support phone line 0300 131 7000 and is open between 7am and 11pm every day, while the text service will be available 24/7 by simply texting FRONTLINE to 85258.