Mental health support for hospital staff and emergency workers during Covid-19 pandemic

Leeds hospital staff dealing with unprecedented levels of pressure during the Covid-19 pandemic have been offered professional mental health support.

The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust said it acted early in the outbreak to listen to the needs of staff and ensure there was a network of mental health support in place, including access to clinical psychologists.

West Yorkshire Police and West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service chiefs have also spoken about measures they have put in place to ensure emergency workers' mental health has been supported during the pandemic.

Leeds Teaching Hospitals set up staff drop-in hubs open seven-days-a-week, where health workers who feel they need support can talk to a clinical psychologist.

Leeds General Infirmary

And a 24/7 telephone helpline offers help out of hours.

The trust has held sessions for staff on how to manage increased levels of anxiety, fear of becoming infected and infecting their family or how to work with distressed relatives under high pressure situations.

Dr Catherine Derbyshire, head of neuropsychology at Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust, said one of the successes was in making a psychologist available to each of the clinical service units across its hospitals.

She said: “It has allowed senior staff direct access to a psychologist to help them think systematically about how they can best support their staff through this period of high pressure - and afterwards, when staff begin to reflect on their experiences.

“There’s no doubt from the feedback that people have found the services very helpful. A typical comment has been: ‘it has been absolutely vital and really appreciated’”

The trust’s charity Leeds Cares helped to refurbish the staff drop-in hubs and, thanks to generous donations, is providing £25,000 in funding for an additional psychologist post at the trust for extra one-on-one support for staff.

Paul Watkins, director of fundraising at Leeds Cares, said: “Supporters are keen to ensure that their donations are going directly to support frontline staff during this time.

"Projects like this are a great way of showing how much we value these staff and their continued wellbeing.”

Nick Smith, executive director of operations at Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust, said: “Ordinarily we have a wide range of support mechanisms available to our staff who often work in very challenging circumstances.

" However, we are acutely aware of the impact that the current coronavirus pandemic may cause individuals in terms of heightened levels of stress and anxiety so we have put additional health and wellbeing measures in place beyond those routinely provided.”

An NHS spokesperson said: “It is absolutely right that all NHS staff get the best possible care, including mental health and wellbeing support when they need it, which is exactly why on top of existing support we launched a new dedicated helpline, with thousands of colleagues benefitting.

“While many people will be able to overcome the stresses and challenges of this time with support from partners, family, friends and local wellbeing offers, others will need to access our NHS mental health services, and the NHS is committed to swift access to talking therapies for our staff and key workers now and in the future.”Assistant Chief Constable Angela Williams, of West Yorkshire Police, said the force's wellbeing programme focuses on all types of health, including mental health.

She said: "During the pandemic, the full wellbeing programme has been in place and even more support has been offered virtually over the use of Skype video calls and other social platforms.

"We have lots of support services for officers and staff, both online and in person."

Assistant Chief Constable Williams said: "In order to reassure and inform our officers, staff, their families and the public whom they come into contact with whilst at work, we have been part of the National COVID antigen testing from the start and continue to be able to swiftly access such tests from a number of locations across West Yorkshire.

"Colleagues have also continued to do a brilliant role for one another by volunteering to be part of the Peer Support Network, where a ‘Peer’ has effectively had extra training and is now able to reach out and assist a colleague in need."

Mussarat Suleman, West Yorkshire Fire Service's assistant occupational health, safety and wellbeing manager, said: “We are making every effort to look after our staff’s mental health and wellbeing and have encouraged regular engagement and communication across the brigade to keep people in touch and informed.

“Since the coronavirus outbreak we have surveyed our staff to ask them how they feel their mental health has been affected and although we have seen a slight dip in feelings of wellbeing, which is completely understandable, we are now able to use this insight to support our staff’s mental health further through the long-term as we face the future challenges that this pandemic may bring.”