Forty hubs in England will field calls from frontline staff and contact those at higher risk directly
The NHS is setting up dozens of mental health hubs to help staff who have been left traumatised by treating Covid
patients during the pandemic.
There is mounting concern that large numbers of frontline workers have experienced mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder over the last year.
NHS personnel will be able to ring one of the 40 new hubs in England, receive advice and be referred for support from psychologists, mental health nurses, therapists and recovery workers.
Frontline workers who are struggling with their mental health will be encouraged to use the service, and hub staff will call workers deemed at highest risk directly to offer their help. Higher-risk groups are likely to include those who work in intensive care, on Covid
wards and in A&E units.
Almost half of doctors, nurses and other ICU staff have reported symptoms of PTSD, severe depression or anxiety, according to research published last month. Of these, about 40% had probable PTSD – far higher than the rates seen among military veterans.
Sir Simon Stevens, NHS England’s chief executive, announced the hubs in an interview with the House magazine. They are being set up at locations across England including Bedfordshire, Lancashire and north-east London. A handful are already in operation.
The services are being modelled on the Greater Manchester Resilience Hub, set up to help NHS staff badly affected after helping victims and survivors of the Manchester Arena attack in May 2017. The hub has helped more than 4,200 health and social care staff, including during the pandemic.
A survey of 7,776 doctors in England, Wales and Northern Ireland by the British Medical Association last December found that 58% had some form of anxiety or depression and 46% said their mental health had worsened during the pandemic.
According to a recent poll by the Royal College of Physicians, 19% of hospital doctors have sought informal mental health support and 10% have asked for formal help from their employer or GP since last March.
NHS workers have talked about the emotional strain over the last year from caring for so many seriously ill people and seeing so many people die, in many cases alone because loved ones were not allowed to visit. Staff needing time off on mental health grounds are contributing to the high rates of staff sickness the NHS has seen recently.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of the mental health charity Mind, said: “We know how tough it’s been for so many frontline NHS staff over the last twelve months … These hubs are an important step forward at this crucial time to signal the support that is available now.”
Farmer said about 180,000 people working in frontline services, including NHS staff, had already sought help from a 24/7 support service for key workers called Our Frontline, which is led by Mind, Samaritans, Shout and Hospice UK.
Health unions are worried that the pandemic’s damage to staff’s mental health will prompt more to quit, and thus exacerbate the health service’s shortfall of around 85,000 workers. However, figures released last week showed big increases in the number of people applying to do a three-year nursing degree and those starting one, which has been called the “Nightingale effect”.
In other comments to the House, Stevens admitted he had been scared when the number of people hospitalised with Covid
recently hit 33,000. The NHS found itself in “very alarming circumstances” last month when a third of all hospital beds contained Covid
patients, he said.
Meanwhile, Labour has stepped up its criticism of the government’s plan to restructure the NHS in England. Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said the plan to abolish clinical commissioning groups and replace them with new integrated care systems was “perhaps better described as de-organising. Is this really an end to bureaucracy?”
He has criticised plans to give the health secretary more direct control over NHS England and its array of arm’s-length bodies.
“Just look at the scorecard,” Ashworth said. “Nightingales set up and the vaccination programme delivered by the NHS [but] contact tracing, PPE to the frontline in the early phase, hotel quarantine and protecting care homes all controlled by this secretary of state,” he wrote in the House.