Unison survey shows impact of Covid-19 pressures on mental health of hospital staff

Unison survey shows impact of Covid-19 pressures on mental health of hospital staff

NHS nurse

Results of a survey published today by Unison shows health staff are suffering severe mental health problems because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Health workers across the UK are struggling to cope with the pressures caused by the Covid-19 crisis, with many suffering from severe mental health issues such as panic attacks and sleepless nights.

That’s the verdict of trade union Unison, which has called for free 24-hour helplines and other measures to help front-line health staff following a survey of over 14,000 health employees.

Health workers including nurses, paramedics, porters, A&E staff and healthcare assistants across the country took part in Unison’s survey, with over half of respondents saying they have struggled to cope during the pandemic.

Some said they have experienced suicidal thoughts, post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and panic attacks, felt helpless when supporting patients or quit their jobs altogether due to the stress. Others said that their mental health had been affected by having to leave rented accommodation because landlords were worried about the risk of transmission of Covid-19, or because of fears they will infect their families.

The results of the survey showed that half of the respondents have sought some form of mental health support since the onset of the pandemic, with the majority turning to friends, family and colleagues.

Unison says the findings of the survey raise serious concerns that health workers are being pushed to the brink, especially as the pressure on hospitals continues to rise. The union is calling on the government to extend its offer of free access to mental health and wellbeing apps for all health staff – a scheme which is set to expire at the end of March.

According to the survey results, the fear of contracting Covid-19 was the top reason given for a deterioration, in mental health (60%), followed by being unable to see friends and family (55%) and increased workload (49%). Other factors include the increased contact with unwell patients (33%), financial worries (23%), difficulty in taking annual leave (17%), and the need to live away from home to protect their family (8%).

UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said: “The pressure on staff of keeping us safe during Covid has been relentless. Many are exhausted with no let-up in sight given the increase in hospital admissions and backlog of cancelled treatments. Others are traumatised from seeing patients die before their time – no one can comprehend the toll this has taken.

“Pay rates must rise soon or staff could leave. The government needs to step in to help the NHS hold on to people. That means supporting their mental health as well as their financial wellbeing. To help avoid an exodus, ministers should extend psychological support and guarantee a decent pay increase.”

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