Call for health workers to get mental health support like veterans post-pandemic

Nurses working in an intensive care unit Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Healthcare staff who have worked through the coronavirus crisis should have a similar mental health service as that offered to war veterans, a group of leading medical organisations has said.

The pandemic has had a “huge impact” on a workforce that has already been stretched thin, according to the 13 healthcare organisations which have come together to call on the Government to make sure there is a dedicated mental health support service similar to that established for former troops.

Staff have been dealing with “extremely high” numbers of critically ill or dying patients.

Some have suffered “moral injury” of not being able to deliver the care they would like to their patients.

Meanwhile support and facilities staff have been under “significant pressure” to keep services functioning at periods during the crisis, they said.

The letter said: “The duration and severity of the Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on an already stretched workforce.

“Many have been dealing with extremely high numbers of critically ill and dying patients, made more challenging by restrictions on family visits.

“Others have been unable to deliver essential care for patients, which has the potential to cause moral injury and mental health disorders. In addition, support and facilities management staff have also been under significant pressure to keep healthcare services functioning.”

It adds: “Despite the difference in context between the military on deployment and healthcare staff working during the pandemic, there are key similarities in terms of the exposure to trauma and risk to psychological and physical health and we have much to learn from the veterans’ mental health services.

“We hope the Government will take inspiration from this when designing services for NHS staff severely impacted by their work during the pandemic.

“Establishing a dedicated, rapid access, occupationally focused service like this feels, morally, like the right thing to do, just as establishing specific veterans’ mental health services is morally right.

“If appropriate support is not offered, sadly we may lose staff from the workforce temporarily, placing even more pressure on stretched resources, or even permanently.”

The NHS has a range of support packages for staff.

In England, the NHS has ploughed millions into mental health support for nurses, paramedics, therapists, pharmacists, and support staff.

This has paid for support services via phone and text messages, a specialist bereavement support line, a specialist app to support workers from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds and online recourses including webinars and guidance.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We recognise the pressure this pandemic has put on NHS staff.

“To properly support staff we are investing £67 million through the health service in additional wellbeing and occupational support for staff, including mental health hubs, a helpline and a 24/7 text support service.

“There are now a record number of doctors and nurses working in the NHS in England, and we are backing the health service at every turn, investing an extra £63 billion last year and £29 billion next year.

“Beyond the pandemic we are strengthening the health and wellbeing support available to all staff through our NHS People Plan, helping make the NHS an even better place to work.”

– The signatories are: Medical Protection Society, Royal College of Psychiatrists, The Doctors’ Association UK, Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association, British Medical Association, Royal College of Surgeons of England, Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, British Association of Critical Care Nurses, Association of Anaesthetists, Society of Occupational Medicine, Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin and Medical Defence Shield.