Intensive care staff mental health fears amid 'overwhelming pressure'

Routine blood tests have been cancelled at Ipswich Hospital, Colchester Hospital and West Suffolk Hospital as a result of the...

Ipswich Hospital, Colchester Hospital and West Suffolk Hospital - Credit: Archant

A health service union has told of "overwhelming pressure" on intensive care staff on the Covid-19 frontline in Suffolk and north Essex.

The warning that staff are going "beyond burnout" comes as fears were raised nationally over mental health problems and PTSD among intensive care nurses.

Unison Eastern regional organiser Cheryl Godber said: “Our hospitals are under enormous strain and the ongoing pressure on staff is overwhelming. As month after month goes by, staff health and wellbeing is becoming more and more of a concern.

“Increasing numbers of health workers are off ill or self-isolating, meaning those left on duty are being asked to give even more.

“It’s not just long hours and fewer rest days taking their toll. The intense emotion and loss can become too much to bear, particularly in stretched A&E departments and intensive care units.

“It is clear people are now going beyond burnout and this could have lasting consequences on not only them but the safety of services we all rely on.

Blurred figures of people with medical uniforms in hospital corridor. Picture: Getty Images/iStockph

There have been warnings that hospital intensive care staff are under "overwhelming pressure" due to the Covid-19 pandemic. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

“Trusts are doing what they can working closely with their staff, but the pandemic has exposed the damage wrought by years of understaffing and underinvestment in our health service – damage that Unison has continually warned was being done.”

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Nationally, results from a new study of critical care healthcare workers, published in the journal Occupational Medicine, found poor mental health was common during the pandemic.

The study, from research by King's College London found nearly half of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) staff were likely to meet the threshold for PTSD or severe anxiety.

Giles Thorpe, chief nurse at East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT), which runs Colchester and Ipswich hospitals, said: “The wellbeing of our staff is hugely important, particularly during the ongoing challenges of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

“We’re working closely with all staff, including our teams in critical care, to identify any support they may need, including regular checks on colleagues’ wellbeing and providing additional peer support.

“We can identify where colleagues may need extra help and have dedicated occupational health experts and a comprehensive employee assistance programme in place to support colleagues further.

“We also launched a dedicated online wellbeing hub in 2020 for our staff which signposts them to a raft of health and wellbeing resources and support that’s available to them whenever they need it.”

More staff restrooms are being created at ESNEFT sites with money donated to the Colchester & Ipswich Hospitals Charity for the Covid-19 staff wellbeing appeal.

Dr Emily Baker, consultant clinical psychologist at the West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, said: "Our amazing staff continue to work incredibly hard under very difficult circumstances, and staff mental health and wellbeing is a top priority.

"Of course, not everyone will need our services, but it’s important that for those who do we have dedicated support available, and we offer everything from an informal chat with trained staff through to more long-term structured support and counselling.”

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