Pressure on the NHS frontline has never been greater. The National Health Service is a foundational cornerstone of British society, and never before has the weight of our future been placed so squarely on its shoulders. This is felt nowhere harder than in the wards and surgeries of our hospitals, and the embattled professionals that staff them. Looking after the mental health of our doctors has never been more important in reducing doctor burnout.
Mental Health On The Front Line
Whilst the public demands deliverance from lockdown, the pressure on NHS staff to lower the national R number and deliver the largest mass vaccination ever seen is creating casualties of its own. The start of the pandemic saw a sharp rise in suicides amongst frontline healthcare professionals. By January 2021 symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or anxiety were found in almost half of all critical care staff.
The emotional burden of the Coronavirus pandemic is a hidden frontline for our doctors and other key workers in their war against Covid19. Whilst there has been much talk of support and measures to prevent burnout and shield NHS staff from the mental impact of the pandemic, many feel that so far it is simply not enough. What’s needed is reinforcements. However, the calls for the cavalry have yet to be answered.
The Staffing Crisis
NHS staffing levels were at the centre of national conversation long before the Coronavirus pandemic. The public health services budget was £850 million lower than 2015/16 levels in 2020, and this has been felt in the numbers of staff available to hold the fort.
Prior to 2020, this budget shortfall was already creating untenable working conditions for many healthcare professionals. In 2018 three leading think tanks warned that by 2030 the NHS could be short of as many as 350,000 personnel. Remaining staff are necessitated to work longer shifts, take fewer days off, and carry a heavier workload than at any point in the history of the NHS.
Burnout and related diagnosable mental illness amongst UK physicians were as high as 52% back in 2017. Prior to the initial outbreak of Covid19, this number was on the increase due to further budget setbacks, including a £1bn trim to funds allotted for the training of new doctors in the UK. The mental well-being of healthcare workers was already at breaking point.
Then Coronavirus reached the UK.
Covid-19 Escalated An Existing Catastrophe
The pandemic has magnified an already disastrous situation. NHS staff were already emotionally forced into having to make a choice between their mental wellbeing and the health of their patients. Waiting times for treatment were at record levels in 2019 due to a lack of qualified healthcare professionals. Knowing that by resting somebody else isn’t receiving treatment takes a huge emotional toll.
The outbreak of Covid-19 decimated an already dwindling workforce. Travel restrictions prevent qualified professionals from abroad, who have been a critical component of NHS service for years, from travelling to the UK. Rates of Covid-19 infection amongst frontline staff are high, further reducing available numbers.
NHS staff are forced to choosing between working almost endlessly until their resilience breaks, or resting to replenish knowing that their absence could lead to a patient’s death. There simply aren’t replacements to cover them. Not to mention, during these often day-long shifts many are witnessing the death of patients on an unprecedented scale.
A staffing crisis that drove hundreds of physicians away from the profession sends them now instead to PTSD, depression, and clinical morbidity. Many have felt that the NHS mental health crisis doesn’t have the awareness it deserves. Many feel alone. We think this needs to change.
Healing Our Healers
Healing Our Healers is our new initiative and it has one goal; to bring awareness, attention, and action to the mental illness plight of the healthcare professionals fighting this pandemic both medically and emotionally.
Starting with a series of online talks aimed at doctors and physicians, Healing Our Healers will be creating networks and resources for those on the frontline. Our early 2021 talks will host panels that include leading physicians and practitioners, psychology and wellbeing experts and healthcare industry leaders. We will be bringing the mental health of doctors and other healthcare professionals to the forefront of the discussion.
Healing Our Healers is an independent initiative started by Remedium Cares. Remedium are healthcare staffing experts, and our dedication to providing permanent doctors as an alternative to expensive locum placements has saved the NHS £180million. It is from speaking to the many doctors that found permanent workplace homes through Remedium that we knew just how deep the emotional wounds this pandemic leaves on our frontline NHS staff really are.
We knew something had to be done.
Events And Mental Wellbeing Resources Tailored For The NHS Frontline
Our objective is very simple. We want the NHS staff that are beating back Coronavirus to have access to the help they spend their lives giving others. We want them to know they are not alone, and that the monumental responsibility current events have placed on their shoulders does not mean they must suffer in silence.
You can join us in July for our first series of talks. We will be continually running events throughout the year, as well as posting and creating resources and content to support healthcare staff across the UK. Follow or subscribe to our social media feeds to keep informed.