HCW's mental health support should mirror war veteran services
Thirteen leading healthcare organisations are calling on the Government to take inspiration from the mental health service offered to veterans, when designing services for NHS staff affected by their work during the pandemic.
The call follows Professor Neil Greenberg’s study of staff working during the pandemic, which shows they report more than twice the rate of probable post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) found in military veterans who have recently experienced combat.
In a letter to Health Secretary, the healthcare leaders acknowledge the Government’s efforts to address this issue in the NHS People Plan, including piloting wellbeing hubs and creating a national support service for critical care staff. However, the group fear that when the crisis is over, some local services may not be continued and longer-term treatment for conditions, including but not limited to PTSD, will not be prioritised.
The letter, calling for a dedicated mental health support service similar to that established for former troops, was signed by Medical Protection Society, Royal College of Psychiatrists, The 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.
It said: “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.
“To fulfil the promises made in the Military Covenant, the NHS established dedicated veterans’ mental health services, which provide rapidly accessed, occupationally informed, care for veterans who have been psychologically injured because of their service. More than 13,000 former troops have benefited from specialist care for issues such as anxiety and depression and almost 2,000 more have received help for more complex problems such as PTSD.
“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 veteran’s 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.”