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ICU staff suffering high rates of mental ill health, study shows

Intensive Care staff are suffering high rates of mental ill health due to the pandemic, research finds.

Nearly half of the respondents reported symptoms of probable PTSD, severe depression or a severe anxiety disorder.

More than 1 in 7 ICU staff reported thoughts that they would be better off dead, or of hurting themselves in some way.

Researchers at King’s College London asked 709 doctors and nurses at nine intensive care units in England about how they were coping as the first wave eased.

The results highlight the potential profound impact that COVID-19 has had on the mental health of frontline UK staff.

The rates of probable PTSD in the UK general public to be approximately 4.4% and other studies have reported an overall PTSD prevalence of 17% in veterans who had recently served in a combat role.

The probable PTSD rate the researchers report (39.5%) was around nine times that found within the general population and more than double that found in recent combat veterans.

The researchers call on NHS managers to prioritise provision of evidence-based staff support which is likely both to improve psychological wellbeing and decrease the likelihood of psychologically unwell staff delivering substandard care.

They call for rapid access to formal treatment if staff need help, and supervisor and peer support also encouraged – as there’s good evidence of benefits in other trauma-exposed occupations such as firefighting and the military.

Lead researcher Prof Neil Greenberg said: “The severity of symptoms we identified are highly likely to impair some ICU staff’s ability to provide high-quality care as well as negatively impacting on their quality of life.”

He called on NHS managers to actively monitor the wellbeing of ICU staff in order that the impact of workload changes are properly understood and mitigated where possible.

This would allow for staffing and other support measures to be implemented in a dynamic fashion ensuring the provision of high-quality care whilst protecting the mental health of ICU staff.

NHS staff safety

Dr Pallavi Bradshaw, Medicolegal Lead, Risk Prevention at the Medical Protection Society, commented: “For most healthcare workers Covid-19 will be the biggest health crisis in their careers, with countless patients and colleagues lost. Without support to deal with a range of mental wellbeing issues, many are at risk of becoming burnt out and disillusioned or suffering in silence with chronic psychological injuries – both of which put the safety of themselves and their patients at risk.

“The NHS people plan published last year sets out some credible support initiatives, such as every NHS organisation having a wellbeing guardian in place. But we need to see more concrete commitment to their implementation through the support of central government funding.”

Read the research.

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