The BMA has backed the Labour party’s call for a mental health support package to provide ‘fast-tracked help and advice’ to NHS and care staff battling through the coronavirus pandemic.
The opposition’s call for a ‘shake up’ includes the introduction of a 24/7 mental health support hotline; more follow-up support, including specialist assessments; further interventions and treatment for PTSD and other issues, and increased sign-posting for alcohol and addiction services.
This comes as a third of doctors in a BMA tracker survey, carried out last week, said they were suffering from some form of depression, anxiety, stress, burnout, emotional distress or other mental health condition related to their work during Covid-19.
More than four in 10, of the 7,000 surveyed, said they had to access NHS wellbeing support services during the pandemic, either through their employer or a third party.
During the peak of the pandemic, demand for the BMA’s own wellbeing support services for doctors and medical students increased by 40% compared to the usual demand.
In April, the NHS launched a mental health hotline for NHS staff, to provide psychological support and advice, and partnered with a series of mental health apps, giving free access to workers.
In a statement, the Labour party said the current support available to staff is ‘inadequate’, as ‘there are long waiting lists and significant regional variations’ and because not all NHS and care staff are covered.
‘The current Covid-19 support hotline offers emotional support and signposting, but does not lead on to psychological therapies,’ it said.
Labour’s shadow mental health minister, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, also called for the Government to appoint a new independent national wellbeing guardian to coordinate and oversee the support and to ‘hold the Government and NHS employers to account’.
Stress is estimated to account for over 30% of sickness absences each year in the NHS, costing the NHS up to £400 million per year.
BMA council deputy chair and wellbeing lead, Dr David Wrigley, said: ‘Doctors and their colleagues across health and social care have been fighting daily to save lives on the frontline during this pandemic. They are paying a heavy mental and emotional toll for all they have gone through.
‘Working gruelling hours in often unfamiliar settings, seeing large numbers of patients dying and consoling their distressed relatives, all the while anxious about their own safety and that of their loved ones: the strain they are under is huge.’
Labour’s proposals echo the BMA’s own calls for far better support for healthcare staff, he said. This includes ‘properly-funded, universally accessible and high-quality services’.