Health workers call for post-pandemic mental support similar to services offered to veterans


Image: Peter Byrne/PA

A group of leading medical organisations is urging the Government to offer healthcare staff working through the coronavirus crisis a similar mental health service as that offered to war veterans.


The pandemic has had a huge impact on staff who have been dealing with extremely high numbers of critically ill or dying patients.


Thirteen healthcare organisations, including the British Medical Association and Royal College of Psychiatrists, have come together to call on the Government to make sure there is a dedicated mental health support service similar to that established for former troops.


In a letter to the Government, they have warned that health workers are at risk of “moral injury and mental health disorders”.


The letter reads: “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.”


The letter goes on to highlight the similarities between healthcare staff and those in the military on deployment.


It adds: “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.


“We hope the Government will take inspiration from this when designing services for NHS staff severely impacted by their work during the pandemic.


“Establishing a dedicated, rapid access, occupationally focused service like this feels, morally, like the right thing to do, just as establishing specific veterans’ mental health services is morally right.


“If appropriate support is not offered, sadly we may lose staff from the workforce temporarily, placing even more pressure on stretched resources, or even permanently.”


Read more: Extra funds for NHS staff as report calls for time to 'rest and recover'

The NHS has a range of support packages for staff, and it has ploughed millions into mental health support in England for nurses, paramedics, therapists, pharmacists, and support staff.


This has paid for support services via phone and text messages, a specialist bereavement support line, a specialist app to support workers from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, and online recourses including webinars and guidance.


A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We recognise the pressure this pandemic has put on NHS staff.


“To properly support staff, we are investing £67 million through the health service in additional wellbeing and occupational support for staff, including mental health hubs, a helpline and a 24/7 text support service.


“There are now a record number of doctors and nurses working in the NHS in England, and we are backing the health service at every turn, investing an extra £63 billion last year and £29 billion next year.


“Beyond the pandemic we are strengthening the health and wellbeing support available to all staff through our NHS People Plan, helping make the NHS an even better place to work.”


Written by Hedi Mehrez

News reporter for Talking Mental Health

Twitter: @Adver_HediM