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Evaluating a psychological support service focused on the needs of critical care and theatres staff in the first wave of COVID-19

10 February 2022
17 min read
Volume 31 · Issue 3



In response to COVID-19, the authors used clinical psychology resources from their hospital's Pain Medicine Department to provide direct support to critical areas.


The degree to which the service met the needs of staff and managers between March and August 2020 was evaluated.


A total of 51 staff were referred. Most were nurses (43%), followed by theatre practitioners (36%), healthcare assistants (9%), consultants (8%), administrative (2%) and support staff (2%). Working status, reason for referral and presenting difficulties at first appointment and outcome were recorded. Staff were sent an anonymous survey following intervention.


Staff reported high rates of burnout, anxiety and low mood, with 22% experiencing exacerbation of pre-existing mental health problems. All staff reported benefit from the intervention and managers provided positive feedback.


Establishing a supportive service that included psychology benefited both staff and managers at the peak of the pandemic. Recommendations are provided.

Intensive care units and theatres are known for high medical complexity and working pressures (Ward and Chijoko, 2018). Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, such services were forced to adapt and maintain resilience, in addition to coping with existing pressures. Frontline roles are recognised as being directly associated with chronic illness (Caruso, 2014), including mental health issues, which can adversely affect a health professional's ability to care for patients (Moss et al, 2016).

Research from previous pandemics has shown that working with additional pressures has both a physical and psychological impact on healthcare workers. For example, about 10% of those working in health care during the SARS pandemic had post-traumatic stress symptoms (Wu et al, 2009) and up to 35% experienced emotional distress (Maunder, 2004). Furthermore, during a pandemic there is a risk of staff developing moral injury, which is a term used to describe psychological distress caused by failure to prevent or act in a situation that results in a violation of moral values (Greenberg et al, 2020).

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