Caring in a crisis


 by Professor Rebecca Lawton, Raabia Sattar & Sally Bridges

On Sunday, Sir Simon Stevens, NHS Chief Executive, announced a national network of 40 mental health hubs for NHS staff. The hubs will offer expert help to any staff who need it through online and one to one methods. The mental health and wellbeing of frontline NHS staff has been of great concern during the last year. In NIHR YHARC, colleagues from our Improvement Science theme were keen to understand the experiences of NHS staff working with patients during the first Covid-19 wave and consider how best to deploy clinical psychologists to support them. 

They launched the Caring in a Crisis study to do this. The team worked with Dan O’Hara (Clinical Neuropsychologist) and Del Wijeratne (Consultant, Obstetrics and Gynaecology) from Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust. They set up a Facebook group for staff at the Trust and asked Clinical Psychologists who were deployed to support NHS staff at the frontline of care to keep diaries about their experience. At the end of last year, the team interviewed all the Clinical Psychologists about what they understood to be the main stressors and uplifts for staff and what had worked well (and less so) in the way that support was offered.

Professor Rebecca Lawton who led the study said –

We have found that staff prioritise patient care over their own mental health, often missing out on the basics of self-care such as taking breaks and having a drink. This means that they are unlikely to take time away from their work to seek out psychological services when they feel they need some support.  However, when services are on site, when clinical psychologists work alongside staff, develop trusting relationships and understand the context in which people are working, the seeking of help is normalised and staff are more likely to access this support. Staff highlighted that the main stressors they faced during this crisis included redeployment to unfamiliar areas, the challenges of working with unfamiliar colleagues and uncertainties of what was expected of staff during this busy and difficult time. During COVID-19, this form of psychological support on site was used by staff as a coping mechanism to help them deal with these stressors they faced during the crisis.

After an unprecedented year of challenge in the NHS it is essential that we focus on the mental health and wellbeing of the NHS workforce to ensure they have the support they need to deliver the service, we aid staff retention and minimise avoidable staff sickness. Good quality, evidence based interventions that meet the needs of staff are essential to make this happen.

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