Intensive care staff could leave profession if not given mental health support


Alexandros Michailidis /

Half of staff working in intensive care units will need psychological support in order to deal with the trauma of watching thousands of patients die during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a charity.

The Intensive Care Society suggested that many ICU staff could leave the profession if they do not receive substantial mental health support.

Research from King’s College London in January found that 45% of ICU staff in England suffered severe anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health concerns following the first wave of Covid-19 last year. One in five nurses and one in seven clinicians working in ICU reported thoughts of self-harm.

ICS president Stephen Webb suggested that the second wave of infections and the resulting increase in ICU bed utilisation would have hit health workers’ mental health particularly badly, “knowing that they have to go through it all again, knowing the stress that it caused the first time”.

“This pandemic is the greatest crisis we’ve seen in a century,” he told the Guardian. “There is a danger that we will lose further staff in the future. We know there’s a risk of people falling ill, wanting to leave – not just intensive care but healthcare completely.”

In a report published last month, the ICS warned that the intensive care workforce, including those who have supported from other specialties, will become more fatigued and stressed, with the risk of long term psychological harm and mental health concerns, if they are not given time to take their leave opportunities and recuperate.

“Many staff are reporting moral distress working outside of [recommended] ratios and staff turnover is increasing, therefore reintroduction of pre-pandemic staff standards is fundamental to wellbeing and productivity and to preventing psychological harm,” it said.

The 2020 NHS staff survey, published last week, showed that 44% of NHS staff felt unwell because of work-related stress last year, compared with 40.3% a year earlier. Increases in stress levels were sharpest in acute community trusts and acute specialist trusts.

NHS England has revealed plans for 40 “mental health hubs” for health workers, which will offer staff access to confidential advice from mental health clinicians, therapists, recovery workers and psychologists.


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