NHS staff ‘should be fast-tracked for mental health support’

21 Feb 19

NHS staff should be prioritised for mental health support and treatment, according to proposals backed by health secretary Matt Hancock.

The secretary of state pledged “immediate access” to mental health support for doctors, nurses and other NHS staff, through “fast-tracked mental health referrals for NHS employees” if they are identified as a priority by their GP or an occupational health clinician.

Hancock said the mental and physical wellbeing of health service staff was an “utmost priority”. However, there are no dates for when new plans will be finalised or be implemented.  

The plans will be based on recommendations set out by Health Education England NHS Staff and Learners’ Mental Wellbeing Commission this week, which highlighted that the “emotional labour” within the NHS was “exhausting” and many staff members retain “a collection of curated traumatic memories of death and dying”.

It said: “Many staff, often young staff, see the horrors of extreme trauma; they see the aftermath of major road traffic accidents, suicide, and they see children in distress or dying and they help families cope with the loss of a loved one.

“The emotional labour required to manage this rollercoaster for NHS staff and those learning in the NHS is often taken for granted by the individual and by the NHS itself.”

Ian Cumming, chief executive of HEE, said: “It is vital that staff feel they are supported and that employers have the right procedures in place to offer all the help that may be needed.

“The mental wellbeing of staff contributes positively to patient care so we must get it right.”

In a statement on Wednesday, the government said its plans could also include post-incident support for frontline staff, such as peer group support and a dedicated mental health support service giving advice 24 hours a day.

The health secretary is also looking to improve ‘rest spaces’ for on-call staff. The report highlighted that NHS capital budgets should be earmarked for funding for staff facilities, as these have in the past been raided to keep frontline services up.

In response to the HEE report, the head of policy at NHS Providers Amber Jabbal said: “One in three NHS staff has reported illness due to work-related stress. We must urgently address this.”

She added that the government and the NHS “can do more to improve staff morale by tackling work-life balance, improve the working environment and offer more training and development support to staff”.

Chief executive of Mind, a mental health charity, Paul Farmer said: “None of its promises will be become reality unless we invest not only in the mental health of current staff but also recruit a larger workforce.”

The proposals will be considered as part of a wider review of NHS workforce and if supported would need funding at the Spending Review, the Department of Health said.

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