COVID-19: Calls for NHS staff to have access to similar mental health support as war veterans

NHS staff who worked through the pandemic should have access to a dedicated mental health service, similar to that of the one offered to war veterans, leading medical organisations have said.

Health workers have suffered a "huge impact" while dealing with "extremely high" numbers of critically ill or dying patients, according to a letter from 13 healthcare organisations to the government.

Some were also at risk of "moral injury and mental health disorders" due to not being able to deliver essential care for patients as the health service became almost overwhelmed at the peak of the pandemic.

"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 veterans’ mental health services," the letter said.

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The organisations – which include the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Psychiatrists – warned that without more support, staff could resort to quitting.

British war veterans currently have access to a range of support including a helpline and the Veterans Welfare Service, which provides support to all veterans and their families.

The NHS does have some support packages for staff.

In England, millions of pounds have been spent on mental health support for nurses, paramedics, therapists, pharmacists, and support staff.

This includes support services via phone and text messages, a specialist bereavement support line, a specialist app for workers from ethnically diverse backgrounds, and online resources.

But the medical organisations said the support for NHS workers should take more "inspiration" from the services provided to veterans.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "To properly support staff we are investing £67m 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…

"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."

The signatories of the letter are: 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.

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