Care workers from a North East care home have spoken for the first time about the mental health impact of working on the Covid frontline.
It comes as data from a Unison survey obtained by ITV News Tyne Tees found 84% of care workers in the North East attributed their decline in mental health to the pandemic.
Unison has called on the government to "come up with a proper social care strategy that delivers high quality care and rewards and values the staff who are delivering it".
The government said "Delivering a care system that is fit for the future remains a top priority and we will bring forward proposals for social care later this year.”
The survey gathered responses from 435 care workers in the North East and found two thirds of them felt their mental health had declined during the Covid crisis, with 84% of respondents saying the pandemic had contributed to their mental health issues.Tracey White, from West Farm Care Home in Longbenton, Newcastle told ITV News: "There was one stage where we had three ambulances here in one night. We lost three people, basically within hours of each other. November will always have a serious impact on me every year, every year".
"It was the dread of coming to work every morning thinking have we lost somebody else today and when you walked through the door and saw the look on other staff’s faces, you knew somebody else had gone.
74% of respondents said fear of contracting Covid or infecting family and friends contributed to their decline in mental health, with two-thirds highlighting an increased workload, 32% admitting low pay concerns and a third saying seeing people ill and dying of Covid took its toll.Managing Director of Craig Healthcare, Lucy Craig, said West Farm lost 12 residents to Covid during the second wave.
She said: "It swept through very quickly. We had some very, very poorly people and I’ve seen things happen to elderly people that I’ve never witnessed before in my entire life and I never want to witness again."
"I’ve seen things and experienced emotions myself and with people that I’ve never experienced in my life before.
Nearly 35% of respondents said they were having sleeping difficulties due to working during the pandemic, with a fifth experiencing anxiety, 14% feeling sad and depressed and 16% unable to de-stress after leaving work.Carer Louise Clough said every day brought new questions: "how the days made me feel, tears coming, a bit anxious to come in again, you know, to face it all again. Will it ever end? How would we learn from this? Where would we go from here?"
Unison said the government has an absolute responsibility to address what they call the inadequacies and failings of the social care sector.
Regional Secretary, Clare Williams said: "We’re at a point of crisis. The social care system as it’s currently organised isn’t working for the people who need it and that’s all of us and our loved ones at some point in our life.
"Sit down with Unison and others and let’s come up with a proper social care strategy that delivers high quality care and rewards and values the staff who are delivering it."
A spokesperson for Department of Health and Social Care said:
"We are committed to ensuring all our dedicated frontline care workers can access the support they need during this difficult time. To support social care workers’ wellbeing we have worked with the NHS and other organisations to develop a package of psychological and practical resources, including ‘Our Frontline’, which is a source of information and emotional support. The government has invested over £1.4 billion in adult social care, on top of £4.6 billion for local authorities to address pressures on public services, free PPE and increased staff testing. Delivering a care system that is fit for the future remains a top priority and we will bring forward proposals for social care later this year."