Call for NHS staff to have access to military-style mental health support

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NHS staff who have worked on the frontline in the fight against Covid-19 should have access to a dedicated mental health service, similar to that offered to military veterans.

This is according to 13 health organisations which, in a letter to the government, have warned that NHS staff are at risk of “moral injury and mental health disorders” because of not being able to deliver care to some patients during the peak of the pandemic.

Their letter said: “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.

“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 concluded that establishing a dedicated, rapid access, occupationally-focused mental health service was “the right thing to do”.

A University of Roehampton study into the impact the pandemic has had on health workers found the number of NHS staff reporting significant mental health issues quadrupled during the first wave of Covid-19 infections.

NHS England is opening 40 dedicated mental health hubs for health workers, which will offer confidential support over the phone, online and face-to-face. Hubs will proactively contact staff groups who are most at risk of experiencing poor mental health, but individuals can also reach out to them directly if they need support.

The organisations that signed the letter are the: Medical Protection Society, Royal College of Psychiatrists, 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.

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