When we struggle with physical or mental health, we are encouraged to tell our GP. They can offer treatment and support to improve our well-being. What happens when GPs and other medical staff are affected by ill-health? Where can they seek support?
Mental Health and the Pandemic
Government data reveals that levels of personal well-being in the UK were at their lowest during the first and second pandemic lockdowns. For the majority, things are bouncing back. Life is returning to some degree of normality and that is improving our well-being.
Whilst many people suffered from depression, anxiety and loneliness, there was one group of people who have shown extreme resilience; medical staff. Nurses, doctors, healthcare assistants, porters and hospital cleaners have been working at critical levels for nearly two years.
Already understaffed before Covid-19, medical teams have been dealing with the same challenges as the rest of the population, whilst also spending long shifts treating and supporting others.
As things improve and we move out of a non-emergency state, the pressures don’t ease. Prioritising Covid treatments has resulted in a significant backlog in routine surgery and treatments.
How Covid Compromised the Mental Health of Medical Teams
The demands that have been placed on medical teams in the past two years are unsustainable. Covid 19 is described as having a ‘catastrophic impact’ on the mental health of medical personnel, with many suffering from burnout.
A Roehampton University report, published in the Nursing Times last year, reveals signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are widespread. Individuals have been exposed to risky working conditions and multiple deaths, whilst being isolated from family, friends and other support networks.
The findings reveal that frontline nurses and medics from ethnic minority groups had been hardest hit. They revealed the highest rates of poor mental health.
This data is backed up by the Royal College of GPs. Their specialist Mental Health clinic for medics has treated the same number of NHS staff in 18-months as in its first 10 years of operation. Around 600-700 staff a month are accessing the service; double the number that accessed support in 2020.
The Challenge of Accessing Support for Mental Health
Although numbers seeking support have risen, there are concerns that many more need support. As someone used to caring for others, it can be difficult for some to put themselves first. The stigma around poor mental health is even greater if you are meant to be the one that others turn to. Many fear what colleagues will think and how it may impact their future in the profession; will they be struck off the medical register?
Mindset is working with several healthcare groups to build awareness of mental well-being, reduce the stigma and encourage people to seek the support they need. In a role that can be traumatic and exhausting, as well as rewarding, self-care is vital. I see it as a fundamental component in the successful recruitment and retention of medical staff.
Recruiting and Retaining Nurses
The extreme pressure of the job and its impact is one of many reasons why many medical staff are quitting. The desire for a work/life balance is the main driver of resignations according to NHS digital data.
A union employment survey carried out by the Scottish Royal College of Nurses revealed that 60% of registered nurses were now considering resigning from their profession. This is a situation echoed across the UK. With around 40,000 nursing vacancies in England alone and Brexit reducing nursing applicants from the EU, the situation in our hospitals is critical.
Investing in Medical Staff
To retain the medical staff currently in post, as well as making a career in nursing an attractive proposition, action is needed. Doctors, nurses and other care professionals as humans, not machines, and it is important to provide them with the tools and support to remain resilient.
The job is demanding and at times highly distressing. To ensure that they can cope and not burn out, it is important to provide:
- Safe working conditions, including clean, ventilated wards and access to PPE
- Realistic workloads including time at the start and end of a shift to hand over
- Access to food and drink through their shift
- Fair pay, including pay rises in line with cost of living increases
- Timely access to supervision, peer support, specialist support and counselling
- Training and development opportunities
- Kindness and support from all everyone in the team
These steps to protect the mental health of all health professionals is essential. Without nursing teams, the physical and mental health of the nation is compromised.
Support Services for Health & Social Care Workers
If you are a hospital worker who is struggling to cope with the demands of your role, specialist support is available. If you prefer to avoid speaking with colleagues or in-house support the following services are available for those working in medical teams:
Shout – Text FRONTLINE to 85258 for support via text
Samaritans – Call 0800 069 6222 (England) or 116123 (Scotland, Wales, NI) for dedicated specialist support for healthcare workers – 7am until 11pm daily
Just B – Call 0300 303 4434 to talk with a trauma and grief specialist