DAUK and ITV news look at the impact of Covid-19 on the mental wellbeing of NHS staff

In a snapshot survey of 350 NHS staff, the Doctors’ Association UK and ITV news have found that 57% of respondents have felt so stressed that they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope because of pressure at work during the last month. 

The anonymous survey also found that 11% of responders had felt suicidal and 3% had self-harmed in the past month, as a result of stress due to increased pressure at work. They were then asked whether they had been offered adequate support from their employer for their mental wellbeing. Almost 48% of the 350 staff who completed the survey said that they did not feel the support had been adequate. 

Many of the respondents commented that the lack of personal protective equipment and the conflicting and changing advice on what PPE should be worn and in which circumstances, has led to increasing levels of anxiety and stress. 

“I felt stressed about being unable to work due to illness. I felt stressed by concern for family and work colleagues, because of national PPE problems.”

“The constant change in guidance regarding pregnant doctors working has been a great source of stress and anxiety. The issues surrounding lack of PPE is quite frankly scary! The fact that health professionals are being put at risk is disgusting.”

“I have felt undervalued by my trust in that they are prepared to risk frontline workers’ safety without offering sufficient protection i.e. adequate PPE, or responding in a timely manner to the concerns of their employees.”

In terms of receiving support, there seemed to be a mixed response, with many saying their seniors had been supported: 

“Empathetic managers and staff support services have made a big difference in our our hospital. We feel very well supported.”

Others felt they had either not received support or that it was simply paying lip service: 

“I’ve received so many emails from my Trust saying ‘we are here to support you’, but no one has ever asked me how I am coping. The emails feel like a tick box exercise, to pretend that management are doing something.”

Wellbeing representative from the Doctors’ Association UK, Dr Natalie Ashburner said:

“Given the greater context of chronic underfunding and understaffing, an already overstretched NHS was not prepared to deal with a global pandemic. There were already high levels of stress and burnout among staff so it is hardly surprising that we are hearing of worsening mental wellbeing among healthcare workers in response to Covid-19. 

In addition to this, the confusing information on PPE and testing along with lack of basic protective equipment has further crushed the morale of healthcare workers.

 The nature of the work often exposes staff to potentially traumatic experiences increasing the risk of mental illness along with redeployment to unfamiliar environments and longer hours on gruelling rotas. 

It is critical that we remember that healthcare workers do not have superpowers. They are people with their own families and private lives and will have been affected as much as the rest of the population by the lockdown and lack of their usual coping strategies. The “hero” rhetoric that we have heard so much of in the media, whilst appreciated, does little to support the mental wellbeing of staff who feel unable to speak out about their difficulties.”

DAUK would like to recognise that there has been a focus on supporting mental wellbeing within the NHS and that a number of initiatives have been implemented or expanded in order to meet the increasing need. In order to help raise awareness of these, we have collated a list of wellbeing resources here.