NHS strengthens mental health support for staff

NHS staff will get rapid access to expanded mental health services that are being rolled out across the country as part of efforts to deal with the second wave of coronavirus.

NHS England and NHS Improvement will invest an extra £15 million to strengthen mental health support for nurses, paramedics, therapists, pharmacists, and support staff.

Staff referred by themselves or colleagues will be rapidly assessed and treated by local expert mental health specialists. Those with the most severe needs will be referred to a specialist centre of excellence.

The investment will fund outreach work among those deemed most as risk such as critical care staff.

NHS National Mental Health Director, Claire Murdoch said: “It is crucial that the NHS staff working tirelessly to protect the health of the nation throughout this pandemic are given the support they deserve, which is why we are announcing this expansion of services.

“Frontline workers are the backbone of the NHS, from porters and cleaners to nurses, doctors and therapists, and this funding will ensure they are properly supported while they continue to care for the thousands of patients who rely on the NHS.”

The new investment will make the NHS more resilient. Mental health problems are one of the main reasons for staff absences, with latest data showing that anxiety, stress and other psychiatric illness accounted for 28.3% of all sickness leave in May 2020.

The £15 million funding package will be spent on:

  • creating a national support service for critical care staff who research suggests are most vulnerable to severe trauma
  • funding nationwide outreach and assessment services, ensuring staff receive rapid access to evidence based mental health services
  • developing wellbeing and psychological training, set to be rolled out this winter.

The investment builds on many local programmes already put in place by providers such as:

  • Milton Keynes University Hospital NHS Trust committing to a three-year programme of benefits for staff, including free car parking, free tea and coffee in all staff rooms, enhanced bereavement and special leave, flexible working and childcare provision.
  • Greater Manchester Resilience Hub which offers staff support from qualified mental health clinicians, therapists, recovery workers and psychologists.
  • North West London which has a Keeping Well programme that allows staff able to refer themselves via telephone or online to receive psychological therapy.

Ruth May, Chief Nursing Officer for England, said: “I want nursing, midwifery and care colleagues to know we have listened to your feedback during COVID-19 and will continue to listen.

“This package is designed to enhance support for your health and wellbeing during shifts and to provide additional mental health support when you need it.”

The £15 million investment builds on the commitments set out in the People Plan published in July. Pledges included the piloting of a series of mental health hubs around the country, offering immediate support as well as rapid access to more specialist treatment where needed.

Prerana Issar, Chief People Officer for the NHS, said: “We are committed to improving the wellbeing of our staff, and this announcement will make it easier for NHS workers to access day-to-day support, as well as more intensive mental health care where required.

“To all my NHS colleagues, it’s imperative that you prioritise your own mental health so you can continuing providing the world-renowned care we are so proud of.  If you are struggling do let someone know, there is also more information and advice at people.nhs.uk.”

The NHS also already funds NHS Practitioner Health for doctors and dentists, which provides confidential mental health and addiction services and supports over 2,500 new patients each year.

Existing mental health support for staff will also be expanded as the country moves into winter and faces a potential second wave of COVID-19. Current support services available to NHS workers include:

  • a dedicated health and care staff support service including confidential support via phone and text message. So far 16,000 people have used these services
  • a specialist bereavement support helpline for those who have sadly lost friends and family – whether from COVID-19 or otherwise. So far 2,000 people have benefited from calls to this service
  • a specialist app for Black, Asian and minority ethnic colleagues, Liberate, to manage anxiety and stress levels has had 1,061 downloads since August
  • online resources, guidance and webinars, which have been accessed by 285,253 colleagues, with 7,918 Silver Cloud sign-ups and 90,000 downloads of Headspace.