Half of health professionals battling the coronavirus say their mental health has deteriorated over the past few weeks, with younger staff more likely to feel overwhelmed, according to a survey for the think-tank The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).
Coronavirus impact on mental health
The YouGov poll of 996 healthcare workers found that 50% were experiencing feelings of stress and trauma brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. This had meant one in five – the equivalent of 300,000 staff – was considering quitting the NHS after the crisis has passed, it calculated.
Those aged 18-24 were most likely to state that their mental health had got worse (71%), while women (89%) were more likely than men (83%) to feel the virus had had a detrimental impact on their life.
As many as one in three said their physical health had declined.
Chris Thomas, IPPR health research fellow and lead author of the Care Fit for Carers report, which contains the survey findings, said: “Our care heroes are making significant sacrifices to pull our country through this crisis. But government must ensure people’s lives, livelihoods and security are not lost unnecessarily. That means taking urgent action.
“No one should have to put their health at risk because PPE is lacking. No one should face a mental health crisis because no support was there. And no one should face financial destitution while delivering our crisis response.”
NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer said national and local health leaders were doing everything they could to support frontline workers.
“Help includes a free wellbeing support helpline, providing confidential listening from trained professionals and specialist advice, and a free, 24/7 text alternative,” he said.
“Health workers (and our colleagues in social care) will need support long after the pandemic has abated, and so it is more important than ever that they are able to access resources to manage their wellbeing, in a way that suits their needs.”
Some hospitals, including the Nightingale Hospitals opened to deal with coronavirus patients NHS trusts do not have the capacity to treat, have been adapting mental health techniques usually used in military settings to support workers.
Meanwhile, the British Medical Association has urged the government to improve access to Covid-19 tests for NHS employees. Some have suggested they have had to make 100-mile round trips to get tested, while others have reported that the appointment system was confusing.
The BMA estimated that around 6,000-7,000 NHS staff and family members are currently being tested per day, far below what is needed to get substantial numbers of self-isolating healthcare workers who suspect they have the virus back to work. It believed that almost 100,000 healthcare workers in England, Scotland and Wales were currently self-isolating.
It urged the government to increase the number of testing sites and improve access to tests. Healthcare workers have to be invited to take a test by their employer, and more than 70 doctors have contact BMA this week expressing frustration at their inability to get an appointment.
Professor Dame Parveen Kumar, the BMA’s board of science chair, said: “The government says there has been a lack of demand for staff testing, but this is completely opposite to what doctors across the country are telling us on a daily basis.
“There is little clarity at local and regional levels for staff and their family members about how to get tested and we need to see better coordination of testing and far greater availability if we want to see any real chance of confidently and safely returning thousands of staff back to front line care.
Junior doctor Sarah Hallett said she and her flatmates, also doctors, have been self-isolating after she developed a dry cough a few weeks ago.
“The staffing shortages are already considerable; all of us would rather be helping with this crisis than stuck at home. Access to testing could put doctors back on the NHS frontline, supporting their colleagues, and looking after patients during this national crisis,” said Hallett.