Increasing NHS pressures as concerning as Covid peak, say 8 in 10 staff, but support is helping

On 8th October 2021
Categories: 2021

New research from NHS Charities Together shows eight in 10 NHS staff (81%) believe increasing pressures on NHS services are as concerning as the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, with 96% agreeing they will continue for years. Thankfully however, in part due to generous donations, two thirds of staff (66%) have now been able to access support from their place of work.

In a YouGov poll of over 1000 NHS staff, the vast majority (89%) agreed the NHS has done ‘the best possible job tackling COVID-19’, and 84% are ‘proud to work for the NHS’, but 83% said they feel pressure is still growing ‘significantly’ on services, irrespective of the number of COVID-19 cases.

Some of the main concerns reported by staff include clinics being overwhelmed due to a backlog of patients and large waiting lists (73%), the increase in patient ill health due to some conditions not being treated during the pandemic (73%), and the growing impact of winter pressures such as respiratory illnesses (75%).

Ellie Orton OBE, Chief Executive of NHS Charities Together, said:

“This research shows the vast majority of staff are incredibly proud to work for the NHS, and believe our health service did the best possible job tackling Covid-19, but it also shows the huge mental toll the pandemic took and continues to take. The impact is expected to last for many years to come, which is why we must continue to be there for staff in the long-term.

“Thanks to generous donations from the public we have been able to provide immediate help in every corner of the UK, including counselling, helplines and peer to peer support. But with pressures on services mounting, we need to significantly increase the mental health and wellbeing support available for staff, so they can navigate these new challenges and continue their vital, life-saving work.”

Dr Shaun Thein, Clinical Research Fellow and Specialist Respiratory Registrar at Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals Trust

Dr Shaun Thein, 31, is a Clinical Research Fellow and Specialist Respiratory Registrar at Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals Trust. During the first wave of the pandemic Shaun worked in Respiratory Medicine at Birmingham City Hospital, where his role was adapted as the hospital opened a Respiratory Support Unit to cope with the surge of COVID-19 cases.

Dr Thein, who recently became a father, said:

“We had high numbers of patients in the first wave and many weren’t surviving. It was very distressing for us all and, in some cases, I think staff tried to detach themselves from the situation. But dealing with the emotional burden has been incredibly challenging, and the impact on staff is going to last well into the future.

“Luckily our hospital has been fantastic, and thanks to a grant from NHS Charities Together was able to go above and beyond with support. We have regular debriefs, pastoral support and initiatives such as Wellbeing Wednesdays where we can discuss what’s happened and seek advice. But we need the support offered in previous waves to continue – both to help us cope with these new pressures and maintain our mental health long-term.”

According to the latest research, two thirds of NHS staff have experienced problems with their mental health since the pandemic began in 2020:

  • 44% reported experiencing anxiety since the pandemic started
  • Four in ten (39%) reported exhaustion
  • A quarter (23%) reported depression

The survey also shows what practical and emotional support is needed for staff. More than a third of NHS staff surveyed (36%) said they would benefit from psychological support and/or counselling services, roughly one in ten (11%) said they would benefit from intensive therapy for trauma support, and nearly half (47%) wanted practical support (e.g. access to necessary food, drink and rest areas).

Every NHS Moment

Thanks to you, we’re here for exhausted NHS staff to help them through the hardest moments. We’re pushing patient care further to transform lives and we’re supporting community volunteers making all the difference in emergency situations.

Projects that we’ve funded include counselling services for NHS staff, helplines, and intensive psychological support for post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as major patient focused initiatives like training for emergency responders, research into Long Covid, bereavement support, and specialist equipment.

We need to support the NHS now more than ever as it recovers from one of the most challenging times in history, to reach people on longer waiting lists, and to care for a nation growing older than ever.

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