Millions spent on helping hospital staff cope with pandemic's mental impact

Royal London Hospital

Barts Charity has invested in wellbeing support for staff at hospitals including the Royal London. - Credit: Mike Brooke

Millions of pounds have been invested to support hospital staff in dealing with the mental health impact of working through the Covid-19 pandemic.

Barts Charity has spent more than £4.5m on staff wellbeing at the hospitals run by Barts Health NHS Trust, including Royal London, Newham and Mile End.

Part of the cash has gone on creating a psychological support service, which sees six psychologists established across the trust's hospitals so doctors and nurses can access emotional and mental assistance.

Gavin James, who heads up the wellbeing team at Royal London in Whitechapel, says staff may suffer from post-traumatic stress after what they have been through.

He said: "At the moment, the staff are run ragged. A lot of them are feeling tired and, as it's coming out of the other end of the pandemic, I think everyone's going 'what a relief'.


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"It's when people stop and think about it, that's when they get upset. I think there's an amazing ability to deal with all sorts of difficult situations if you just focus on what you need to do at that moment in time.

"This is why I think now the second wave is coming to an end that people will take that deep breath and we're going to see a number of people fall apart.

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"For us, it's about preparing for that and making sure we are able to identify those that are going to tip over."

Royal London expanded its intensive care bed capacity during the second wave of the pandemic, from 40 up to 129 beds, with staff being redeployed from other parts of the hospital to provide support.

Gavin manages the children's hospital there and said many of the intensive care nurses in that department were redeployed to the adult wards.

Gavin James, chair of the health and wellbeing board at Royal London Hospital.

Gavin James, chair of the health and wellbeing board at Royal London Hospital. - Credit: Gavin James

But he said they were not used to the number of deaths that they had to face.

"That has had an impact on many of our staff. They're not used to seeing people dying in these numbers, feeling the moral insult of watching people die. It's quite distressing."

Mental health experts, who Gavin called prescribers, have already been available for staff to talk to if they want support.

A text was also sent to staff asking how they were feeling, with 900 responding.

Though the majority were positive, Gavin said some staff felt suicidal and these were referred to psychologists.

Part of the money has also been spent on wellbeing hubs at each of Barts' hospitals.

These give staff a place to unwind after their shifts and Royal London has already had a temporary one in place during the pandemic.

This has been in a space on the children's ward - usually themed around Alice in Wonderland - that has been used since September.

Gavin said: "At the beginning of the pandemic, we knew that we didn't have a space where staff could go and recuperate and get away from the ward space, their colleagues and the environment of being around people who are unwell."

Permanent hubs are now being set up for each of the hospitals.

Other ways of helping staff to relax have included silent discos and visits from police dogs.

"I think the pandemic has brought in this view that wellbeing is an incredibly important facet of what we do," Gavin added.

He said the pandemic was something he had not seen the like of in his 30 years in the NHS.

"Nurses are the ones that bore the brunt. It's brought out some amazing qualities in people.

"In warfare, you see similar things. It's that level of death, pain and anguish being felt by people that is shared by the teams.

"Because these teams have been relatively quickly formed, a lot of those mechanisms that normally exist to diffuse that anxiety or stress do not exist.

"The staff have dealt valiantly with it. Some of them have been damaged by it and it's about making sure we honour our duty to help those staff."

Aside from the staff support, the charity has also invested more than £2.2m into Covid research projects, as well as providing iPads for Covid patients in hospital.

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