'We need to care for our carers'

Unite welcomes Labour's call for fast-tracked mental health support for health and care workers

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Unite has welcomed the Labour Party’s call for fast-tracked mental health support for all people working in the NHS and social care.

The party has developed a mental health support package for these workers, which would also include contracted workers such porters and cleaners, who alongside clinical staff have been working under extreme pressure amid the pandemic and are more likely to be very low-paid.

The package, which would be staffed by paid professionals, would feature a new national hotline open seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. It would provide follow-up support, including specialist referrals and assessments, as well as intervention and treatment, including specialised PTSD support. All NHS and social care workers who need it would also be sign-posted to external services such as alcohol and addiction services.  

Announcing the package, Labour’ shadow mental health minister Dr Rosena Allin-Khan called on the government to adopt Labour’s plans.

“Even before the pandemic hit, the case for investing in this kind of support was clear,” she said. “Coronavirus has exacerbated the existing crisis in mental health.

“Many NHS and social care staff have been scared of going to work, and they have lost patients and colleagues. It has been heartbreaking to witness the toll this virus has taken on staff mental health,” she added.

“Current support is not good enough, and without a tailored, fast-tracked service for staff who have faced death and despair every day for over three months, our frontline heroes will continue to be failed.

“We need to care for our carers. It is time for the Government to give back to those who have sacrificed so much to keep our loved ones safe. Unless our staff are protected, they cannot continue their vital work of keeping us all safe.”

Labour’s call for a new system of mental health support for NHS and social care workers comes as new research shows that 42 per cent of healthcare professionals feel that not enough has been done to support their mental health, with 60 per cent saying this should be rectified as an urgent priority.

Indeed, amid the pandemic UniteLIVE has spoken to many health and social care workers who have struggled with their mental health.

Mental health chaplain Graham Peacock told UniteLIVE last month that he believed there would be a lasting mental health impact on health workers long after the pandemic.

“There’s a concept called moral injury, where for example, if you’re a clinician and you’re repeatedly asked to do things you normally wouldn’t do, it can affect you over time,” he explained in an interview in May.

“So normally in a mental health ward you might say to a patient, ‘yes you can have an hour outside – go out for an hour and come back.’ But for good reasons, they now have to restrict that. They’ll have to tell patients ‘you might feel like you’re about to explode but I can’t let you out’ and then work on other strategies to support them. And they’re going to have to do that for a long period of time. It builds up a stress level.

“We recognise that after this pandemic ends, it’s something that will come out – in days, weeks, months, or even years – in the form of trauma. They may suddenly become short-tempered, or they might have to take sick leave.”

Unite national officer Jacalyn Williams said that the support package that Labour has proposed would go a long way in helping tackle a looming crisis in mental health among health and care workers.

 “These plans would create much needed support for the mental health of NHS and care staff who have faced the brunt of the worst impacts of the pandemic day after day,” she said. “Having lost patients and colleagues, and with the threat of the virus to themselves and their loved ones ever present, it is no surprise that the mental health of staff in the health and social care sector has suffered.

“After years of service cuts, staff shortages and increased workloads, there was already a mental health crisis amongst health and social care workers, but the pandemic has made the situation a lot worse,” Williams added. “Unite welcomes Labour’s proposals and calls on the government to implement them as soon as possible.”

By Hajera Blagg

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