Statement - Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) and BACP call for NHS staff to be supported to avoid risk taking
Research states that health care workers, relative to non-essential workers, have a 7 fold increased risk of severe COVID-19 or death with “a need for revised national and organisational policies and practices that protect and support workers with an elevated risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection”. SOM has recently stated its concern about risk assessment processes and emerging evidence shows that the mental health and wellbeing of NHS staff is poor. Staff have had to balance their personal and professional commitments and values, for example in considering their risk of infection to themselves and their family, alongside their duty to care for patients. At times, staff have had to isolate themselves from family and friends and some staff have had to make difficult decisions around the allocation of limited resources. Such tensions have prompted some to raise concerns about the potential for distress among NHS staff who have been forced to make decisions or take actions that they find morally challenging. This may be accompanied by negative feelings of guilt or worthlessness. This could increase the risk of mental ill health, including anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A greater understanding of these impacts can inform the development of effective interventions to support staff during the ongoing outbreak and beyond. The SOM and BACP (the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy) are, therefore, calling for support to doctors, nurses and other frontline workers to be able to report safely their concerns regarding access to correct PPE and to do so within a culture that supports, encourages and acts on these concerns. It is essential that healthcare workers are confident they have effective vaccination, PPE protection, in conjunction with adequate ventilation, and other occupational health controls. It is vital too that staff are supported to manage the tensions that put them at greater risk of mental ill health.
In 2020, SOM led a campaign with many other organisations for “Goal zero for workplace fatalities in health and social care due to COVID-19 and called on the UK government to prevent any further work-related deaths. The campaign was backed by former Prime Minister the Rt Hon Gordon Brown. The call to action was picked up by numerous media outlets, including ITV, The Guardian, South Wales Argus and The National in Scotland. SOM launched a petition that reiterated this call.