Our new appeal urges the public to be ‘there for them’ as the mental health of NHS staff has been severely impacted by the challenges of the Covid pandemic. NHS Charities Together funds are supporting NHS staff in the longer term through mental health and wellbeing programmes that address the lasting effects of the pandemic on staff mental health.

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

Thanks to funding from NHS Charities Together, Bright Charity, which supports Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, has launched a range of initiatives to support staff mental health and wellbeing, from fruit and vegetable grab bags and wellbeing boxes to the Trust’s 11,000 members of staff, to wellbeing spaces and Mental Health First Aid resources.

The psychology and counselling team is also providing structured support groups where staff can come together to reflect on their experiences and gain peer support in a safe space, as well as more specialist one-to-one therapy for those experiencing high levels of trauma.

As demand for NHS services returns to pre-pandemic levels, staff wellbeing support will still be needed at a high level to deal with the emotional impact. Teresa Jennings, Consultant Clinical Psychologist in Occupational Health at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, said:

Teresa Jennings, Consultant Clinical Psychologist

“There are so many ways that staff emotional wellbeing has been impacted – there isn’t a single emotion that we haven’t seen expressed by staff during the pandemic. Some staff are experiencing exhaustion and burnout due to the unrelenting pressures of the last year.

“They have had to deal with a range of stressors both at work and in their personal lives due to the pandemic. There is a sense of ‘collective grief’ from the many types of loss that staff have endured. The uncertainty connected to the unpredictability of the pandemic, not knowing what’s going to happen from one day to the next, has had a huge effect.

“Staff have not been able to involve their patients’ relatives and loved ones as much in their care due to the pandemic which has added an extra emotional burden. Communication has been difficult in full PPE and difficult conversations have had to happen using remote methods rather than face to face which has been stressful. Staff have had to bear witness to difficult types of death due to Covid-19, for example, caring for younger patients or patients where there is a sudden and unexpected deterioration in their condition.

“We have run a number of reflective spaces for staff to talk about how they feel and one key theme that has come through is guilt. Healthcare staff have very high standards, yet at times have felt they have been unable to provide the standard of care they would like to. Or, if they were off sick themselves for example, they may feel that they have let their colleagues down. Many have also felt anxious about the prospect of taking Covid-19 home to loved ones or others they have come into contact with. These feelings of guilt are linked to ‘moral distress’, which can have a significant impact on overall mental health.”

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, staff from all walks of the NHS have been under additional pressure. Abbey Jackson, Staff Nurse on ICU Ward at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, said:

“Since the Covid-19 pandemic began everything has changed – with huge volumes of patients coming into intensive care. Experienced nurses like myself have had more responsibility and each nurse has also had to look after more patients during Covid. I went away from most shifts crying.”

“We have built up relationships with patients, and it still makes me feel emotional even now to think of those we lost – you take it home and you cry.”

Abbey Jackson, Staff nurse

“We have built up relationships with patients, and it still makes me feel emotional even now to think of those we lost – you take it home and cry.

“In terms of the mental health of staff, I don’t think this will easily leave anyone and it will stay with us. We now need to support other aspects of the service as they open up again, and we haven’t had time to recover. And there is a lot of anxiety about the future and whether we will have the resilience to do it again.

“If anything positive has come from the pandemic it is that the team has gone from strength to strength. It is easiest to talk about and share these difficult experiences with other members of the team, and we have helped each other through it. I think to myself ‘I’m staying strong for her to help her through the day’ – and for the patients who can’t see their family and the children.”