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Strategies to protect the emotional health of frontline NHS staff in the pandemic

25 February 2021
6 min read
Volume 30 · Issue 4


Emeritus Professor Alan Glasper, from the University of Southampton, discusses strategies being employed to alleviate stress among NHS staff during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic

There is a growing body of emerging literature that suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic is having an adverse impact on the mental health and wellbeing of NHS staff and especially among those who work in critical care units.

Almost daily television news reports during the current wave of the pandemic show NHS staff being stretched to the limit of their endurance as COVID-19 cases soar and intensive care units (ICUs) becoming filled to capacity. Some NHS trusts have declared Operational Pressures Escalation Level 4 (OPEL 4) status, which indicates that pressures within the local health and social care system continue to escalate, leaving organisations unable to deliver comprehensive care to all patients. The OPEL framework is a 4-point scale that sets clear expectations around roles and responsibilities for all those involved in escalation in response to local surge pressures.

Although the pandemic is taking an emotional toll on all grades of staff, it is the frontline nursing workforce that is bearing the brunt. A recent study by Greenberg et al (2021) into the effects of the pandemic among ICU staff found that poor mental health was common, but that it was more pronounced in nurses than in doctors or other health professionals. This could be due to the fact that nurses are in very close contact with patients throughout their shifts. Many ICU nurses and doctors were shown to have met the clinical signs for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety or alcohol abuse, with some having symptoms that were so severe that they reported contemplating self-harm or suicide.

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