Covid: Almost half of ICU staff suffering PTSD while depression, anxiety and burnout soars

  • ITV Lunchtime News Presenter Nina Hossain speaking to Rupert Pearse, from the Intensive Care Society, about mental health issues for NHS staff

Almost half of intensive care staff working during the Covid pandemic are likely to be suffering from problem drinking, severe anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to new research.

The study, from King’s College London and published in the journal Occupational Medicine, found poor mental health was common among intensive care unit (ICU) staff - and was more pronounced in nurses than in doctors or health workers on the ward.

The findings were based on anonymous surveys between June and July 2020, across more than 700 healthcare workers in nine ICUs in England.

Credit: PA

Over half of respondents reported their wellbeing as being good - but 45% met the threshold for probable clinical significance for at least one of the following conditions: severe depression (6%), PTSD (40%), severe anxiety (11%) or problem drinking (7%).

PTSD is caused by stressful, frightening or distressing events and symptoms include repeated nightmares and flashbacks.

While one in eight staff reported having frequent thoughts of being better off dead, or of hurting themselves in the previous two weeks.

Lead author, Professor Neil Greenberg, from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s, said the results showed "a substantial burden of mental health symptoms" being reported.

"The severity of symptoms we identified are highly likely to impair some ICU staffs ability to provide high quality care as well as negatively impacting on their quality of life," he said.

"The high rate of mortality amongst Covid-19 patients admitted to ICU – coupled with difficulty in communication and providing adequate end-of-life support to patients and their next of kin because of visiting restrictions – are very likely to have been highly challenging stressors for all staff working in ICUs."

NHS hospitals are under increasing pressure as Covid cases continue to rise. Credit: AP

Prof Greenberg said that while the results of his new study were not surprising, "they should serve as a stark reminder to NHS managers of the pressing need to protect the mental health of ICU workers now in order to ensure they can deliver vital care to those in need".

He added: "If we protect the mental health of healthcare workers during the Covid-19 pandemic, staff will be better able to sustainably deliver high quality care to the large numbers of patients seriously unwell with Covid-19."

The researchers on the paper, including experts from University College London and the University of Oxford, said further work was now needed.

Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said: “The unprecedented demand on nursing staff during the pandemic is having a huge impact on their own wellbeing.

“The nurses I speak to every day tell me that they have no fuel left in the tank and their resilience is being seriously tested."

An NHS spokeswoman said: “This is an incredibly tough time for NHS staff working on the front line which is why we have invested £15 million in support, including 38 local mental health and wellbeing hubs and a service for staff with complex mental health needs, such as trauma and addiction.

“The public can also help to support doctors and nurses by following the ‘hands, space, face’ guidance to reduce pressure on hospitals and save lives.”

It was also revealed that the number of doctors seeking psychiatric help through the British Medical Association (BMA) has increased since the crisis began.

Rates of anxiety, depression and burnout have soared among frontline staff, with a total of 371 doctors accessing the BMA’s helpline during November- up 251 from last January, an increase of almost 50%.