NHS funding to enable further health support for frontline workers

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The £6.6 billion NHS funding package, announced by the government yesterday, will help the health service provide mental health and occupational health support to frontline workers.

The NHS will receive the additional funding over the next six months to support the continuation of its response to Covid-19 and help restart services and elective procedures that have been put on hold.

It will also ensure the NHS can continue to offer mental health and occupational health support to nurses, paramedics, therapists, pharmacists, and other frontline staff, the Department for Health and Social Care said.

The funding was announced as the British Medical Association published a report which suggests that the pandemic has left NHS staff “running on empty”, burnt out and disillusioned.

Half of respondents to its latest Covid tracker survey report a worse state of overall health and wellbeing than during the first wave of coronavirus.

Fifty-nine per cent report higher than normal levels of exhaustion and fatigue, and 32% say they or clinical colleagues have been on sick leave due to anxiety, stress, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder directly caused by working during the pandemic.

The report made several recommendations for health sector employers and clinical leaders, including permitting staff to take leave when they need it; ensuring sufficient rest breaks are taken; carrying out physical and psychological health risk assessments; and allowing timely access to occupational health assessments, ideally with a consultant occupational physician-led team.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: “It’s clear that the backlog has to be reduced, but forcing doctors to just ‘get back to normal’ without respite and support is not the way forward and endangers patient safety and staffing ratios now and in the longer run.

“While some, exhausted and burnt out, might take more sick leave, others may decide to leave the NHS altogether – talented, committed healthcare professionals that embody everything our health service stands for.”

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of the NHS Confederation – which represents healthcare organisations – said the package of government support was overdue but welcomed by health leaders.

“The government must also address the longer term consequences of the pandemic on the health of the population and the demands on the NHS,” he said.

“The sheer scale of NHS waiting lists, with 4.6 million patients waiting to start treatment as of the end of January, and our own recent analysis which shows the backlog could swell to 6.9 million by the end of 2021, coupled with the additional demands for long Covid and mental health support requires the government to go further and commit to long-term support for health and social care, including explaining to the public what can and can’t be achieved within the resources that are available.”

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