Coronavirus: Mental health support line set up for NHS workers after PTSD warnings over Covid-19 crisis

Frontline health workers to be given access to free psychological support and advice

Conrad Duncan
Wednesday 08 April 2020 14:16
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The NHS has launched a mental health hotline to offer support to health workers after experts warned doctors and nurses on the frontline of the UK’s coronavirus epidemic could develop post-traumatic stress disorder.

Hundreds of thousands of workers who may need help will be able to call or text a free number staffed by more than 1,500 trained volunteers.

The volunteers, from organisations such as Hospice UK, the Samaritans and Shout, will listen to NHS staff and give psychological support to those in need, as well as offering advice.

Staff may also be signposted to further support, such as financial assistance or specialist bereavement and psychological services, if necessary.

The hotline comes after health leaders warned that the strain on the mental and physical health of NHS staff during the Covid-19 crisis was already unprecedented, even though the epidemic has not yet reached its expected peak.

Dr Alison Pittard, dean of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, told The Independent some patients and staff would suffer “forms of PTSD” due to the intense workload brought on by the pandemic.

She warned intensive care units were facing a huge surge in demand and staff were “already struggling physically and mentally”.

The NHS phone line will be open between 7am and 11pm every day, with a text service which will run 24/7.

The phone number is 0300 131 7000, or staff can text “FRONTLINE” to 85258.

“We need to do everything we can to support our incredible NHS workers as they care for people through this global health emergency,” Prerana Issar, chief people officer for the NHS, said.

“That’s why we have developed a range of support for all NHS staff, from one to one mental health support to a sympathetic voice to confide in.”

She added: “The NHS is rightly doing everything we can for our staff, but the best thing the public can do for nurses, doctors and other NHS staff, is to protect them by staying indoors and washing your hands.”

The NHS has also partnered with Headspace, UnMind and Big Health to offer free apps to staff, providing services for guided meditation, practical help with anxiety and help with sleep problems.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said staff were already providing “tremendous support” to patients and colleagues across the health service.

“It’s extremely heartening to see this kind of support will be available to NHS teams, via phone, text and online,” Mr Mortimer said.

“As the pandemic continues, our people will face new and growing challenges on a daily basis, and it’s therefore more important than ever that they are able to access resources to help them manage their wellbeing, in a way that suits their needs.”

In February, an NHS survey found two in five staff members had felt sick from work-related stress at some point in the last year — the highest level in five years.

A majority of respondents (51 per cent) had also thought about leaving their current job in the health service.

Additional reporting by PA

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