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Research suggests pandemic having serious effects on mental health of ICU staff

Research suggests pandemic having serious effects on mental health of ICU staff

A study from King's College London has found that poor mental health is common among intensive care unit (ICU) staff during the current pandemic and that almost half of ICU staff are likely to be suffering from problem drinking, severe anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.

The study published in the journal Occupational Medicine saw 709 healthcare workers from nine ICUs in England complete anonymous online surveys in June and July last year. The results showed that around 45% met the probable threshold of clinical significance for at least one mental health condition including severe depression, PTSD, problem drinking and severe anxiety.

Of those involved in the study, around 1 in 8 staff reported having thoughts of them being better of dead or thoughts of self-harming in the previous two week period.

The study contains data from the end of the first wave of virus infections last summer, however, there are concerns that the current situation may be similar, if not worse to that shown in the study. Health and care staff have faced unprecedented pressures during the pandemic and many ICUs are now operating well beyond their normal capacity, with hospital admissions continuing to rise at a rapid rate.

The lead author of the study, Professor Neil Greenberg said the results of the study should "severe as a stark reminder to NHS managers of the pressing need to protect the mental health of ICU workers now in order to ensure they can deliver vital care to those in need."

It has been said that self-report surveys can sometimes overestimate the rate of mental health symptoms that are clinically relevant, however, there is still cause for concern.

On Tuesday, Wales' Chief Nursing Officer told the Nursing Times that she has "worry about their wellbeing, the stress of the pandemic and their worries about it", referring to nurses working during the pandemic. 

At the Welsh Government's Press Conference on Wednesday, Dr Andrew Goodall said that NHS staff are exhausted "because this has been a constant treadmill". He added that the NHS in Wales currently has around 9% of its workforce absent for sickness and similar reasons, saying this figure would usually be around 5-6% at this time of year.

Medical experts have been warning in recent days that it will be a few weeks before the NHS starts to see significant benefits from the lockdown and the next weeks are expected to be very difficult, perhaps the most difficult yet as the UK responds to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of Sunday, around 35,000 people in the UK were in hospital for COVID-19 related reasons. 

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