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What's in our plan to improve mental health support for health and care staff?

May 19, 2020 6:00 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

COVID-19 will leave a deep scar on our health and care workforce, who have gone above and beyond to tackle this dreadful virus. Thousands have lost colleagues, endured serious illness, or faced significant trauma.

Whilst we can hope to get a grip on COVID-19 in the coming months, the mental health impacts will last a lifetime.

That is why we're proposing a series of measures to ensure no-one slips through the net as the scale of the mental health impact of this crisis emerges.

What is in our plan to improve mental health support for health and care staff?

1. 24/7 mental health support for health and social care workers.

The Government's current hotline is only available to NHS staff and operates 7am - 11pm seven days a week in NHS England.

The Practitioner Health Programme is a Government funded programme for doctors and dentists across England with mental health illness and addiction problems. It's known to be excellent and trusts often refer their doctors to it to support their mental health. The principles of this should be extended to the universal support available to all health and social care staff.

This support would mirror that provided to our frontline military personnel (MAPS), through a separate specialist service that every individual staff member in the NHS and Social Care can access.

The roll out of these services must be for all staff, whether or not they are directly involved in patient treatment, in recognition of the wide scale of the impact of the COVID-19 across all teams.

2. Protect the NHS and care system. Guarantee NHS and social care staff get the mental health support they need.

The Bradford scoring system rates workers based on the number of days they've had off absent. This can affect their interview prospects, which can make NHS workers anxious to take a day off for their mental health.

People must not be penalised for mental health conditions. Employers and employees should be given transparency on what information on sickness is appropriate to be included in references between employers and what is not.

The NHS has an occupational health department in every trust. When workers move trust, they have to repeat an occupational health test before the job. This can be unnecessary and burdensome on staff, particularly if they move trusts multiple times a year. It's a waste of resources to do repeated tests and staff should not have to repeat traumatic experiences every time they move trusts.

Some parts of the country have set up an 'occupational health passport' which trusts share when necessary with workers' permission. This means they don't have to repeat assessments.

The passports must be standardised and input from bodies including RCPsych, the Faculty of Occupational Medicine, the BMA, alongside NHS Employers will be vital.

3. It's ok to not be ok; creating a culture of support in care

A Balint/Swartz round provides a structured forum for clinicians to meet regularly to discuss the emotional and social aspects of working in healthcare. There is evidence they improve the psychological wellbeing of participants and they are frequently used in psychiatry settings for healthcare workers. This should be rolled out across other settings, with staff given protected time each month to take part.

Every NHS and health care organisation should encourage staff to become mental health first aiders just as they do for physical first aiders.

With so many deaths in care homes, care staff are suffering a constant cycle of bereavement & many are struggling with their mental health.

We're encouraged that Matt Hancock has said he would look at our proposals.

Find out more about our plan 👇 https://t.co/pxGgT6RMjR pic.twitter.com/XAjSG1SImF

- Liberal Democrats (@LibDems) May 19, 2020

The roll out of these services must be for all staff, whether or not they are directly involved in patient treatment, in recognition of the wide scale of the impact of the COVID-19 across all teams. If adopted, the proposals will improve access to mental health support for all those working in health and care settings.

The clap for carers is not just a gesture - people want to see those on the frontline supported right through this crisis and beyond.

Ministers must get on top of the mental health impact of COVID-19 by backing our measures to support our vital NHS and care staff when they need it most.

The mental health impacts of COVID-19 will last a lifetime.

That's why we are proposing measures to ensure no-one slips through the net as the scale of the mental health impact of this crisis emerges.#MentalHealthAwareness #MentalHealthAwarenessWeekhttps://t.co/xCjnbFFGAF

- Liberal Democrats (@LibDems) May 18, 2020