New funds have been announced to aid in the NHS' ongoing COVID-19 response, some of which will go toward addressing the mental impact the pandemic has had on frontline workers.
The £6.6 billion package, to be invested over the next 6 months, will aid in the NHS' gradual recovery from the pandemic with a focus on continuing hospital discharge programmes, infection control measures and long COVID services.
Some of the money will also help to continue funding mental and occupational health support services for frontline staff.
Throughout the pandemic, NHS workers have needed to continue working as usual in the face of one of the highest COVID-19 infection and hospitalisations rates in the world.
In January, figures reported by King's College London revealed the impact on intensive care workers, of whom 45% met the diagnostic criteria for at least one of severe depression, PTSD, severe anxiety, or problem drinking.
According to the study authors, the high mortality rate amongst COVID-19 patients admitted to ICU as well as communication issues were likely the key drivers behind the worrying statistic.
The funding announcement comes as a new report from the British Medical Association details the impact the pandemic has had on the mental health of NHS workers.
According to the report, the continual pressures of running 'hot' for a prolonged period of time means that staff are in desperate need of time to rest and recover.
"If staff are being pushed too hard to restore routine care in an unrealistic timeframe and without suitable resources, the likelihood is that we will see a workforce squeeze due to a combination of increasingly high staff absence rates and staff reducing their hours or leaving the workforce altogether," the report states.
Read more: Almost half of ICU staff are likely dealing with mental health issues as a result of the pandemic
The report cites findings from the BMA's latest COVID tracker survey which show that over half (51%) of workers report a worse state of overall health and wellbeing than during the first COVID-19 wave.
In addition, almost 6 in 10 (59%) workers reported higher than normal levels of exhaustion or fatigue, while just over 3 in 10 (32%) said that they or their colleagues had taken time off due to anxiety, stress, depression or PTSD directly caused from working during the pandemic.
“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," said Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair.
Nagpaul went on to warn of potential staff losses, reflected in the 18% of survey respondents that said they were considering leaving the NHS altogether.
“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.
“The wellbeing of our healthcare workforce must be viewed as a critical priority for the effectiveness of the NHS. This report gives a stark warning to Government: to ignore the threat posed by burnout is to put future services and patient care at risk.”
The report outlines several recommendations to help with the NHS' gradual recovery from the pandemic, including ensuring that the health, safety, and mental wellbeing of staff remains a top priority.
To read the full report from the BMA, click here.
Written by Marco Ricci
Editor and contributor for Talking Mental Health