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Coronavirus

COVID: Calls For Veteran-Style Mental Health Support For NHS Staff

Some health workers have suffered "moral injury" during the coronavirus pandemic, the Government has been warned.

Medical personnel holding a COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine anonymous anon 110121 CREDIT POOL.jpg

Health workers should be offered a dedicated mental health support service similar to that established for military veterans, following the outbreak of COVID-19, according to 13 leading organisations.

In a letter to the Government, the medical bodies said the pandemic has had a "huge impact" on an already stretched workforce, adding that some workers had suffered "moral injury" after not being able to give patients the care they would have liked.

NHS staff have worked alongside military personnel during the pandemic, trying to cope with "extremely high numbers of critically ill and dying patients", the letter stated.

For many staff, the experience was made worse by "restrictions on family visits", it added.

"Others have been unable to deliver essential care for patients, which has the potential to cause moral injury and mental health disorders.

"In addition, support and facilities management staff have also been under significant pressure to keep healthcare services functioning."

Those behind the letter, including the Medical Protection Society and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, acknowledged the "difference in context" between deployed personnel and pandemic health workers.

However, they maintained that there are "key similarities in terms of the exposure to trauma and risk to psychological and physical health", and that veteran-based services can be learned from.

A specialised mental health service for veterans called 'Op Courage' was recently launched in the NHS, with doctors and nurses joining forces charities to offer "high-intensity" treatment to around 500 people each year.

Military personnel have also played a role in the UK's fight against the coronavirus pandemic (Picture: MOD).

"We hope the Government will take inspiration from this when designing services for NHS staff severely impacted by their work during the pandemic," the letter said.

"Establishing a dedicated, rapid access, occupationally-focused service like this feels, morally, like the right thing to do, just as establishing specific veterans' mental health services is morally right.

"If appropriate support is not offered, sadly we may lose staff from the workforce temporarily, placing even more pressure on stretched resources, or even permanently."

In England, the NHS has invested millions of pounds in mental health support for nurses, paramedics, therapists, pharmacists, and support staff.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "We recognise the pressure this pandemic has put on NHS staff.

"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.

"There are now a record number of doctors and nurses working in the NHS in England, and we are backing the health service at every turn, investing an extra £63bn last year and £29bn next year.

"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."