The Labour Party is today calling for a shake-up of mental health support to ensure that, for the first time ever, 3.1 million NHS and care workers get the same fast-tracked help and advice.
The party has designed a new four-stage Care for Carers package to cover all NHS and social care staff in England, including contracted workers such as porters, cleaners and support staff who are doing vital and often distressing work during the coronavirus pandemic and are more likely to be low paid and on insecure contracts.
Current support available is inadequate because it does not cover private sector staff doing NHS and social care work, and there are long waiting lists and significant regional variations. In some areas, nurses can wait for a year for an appointment. The current Covid-19 support hotline offers emotional support and signposting, but does not lead on to psychological therapies.
Labour is also calling for the Government to appoint a new independent national wellbeing guardian to coordinate and oversee the support, and to hold the Government and NHS employers to account. The watchdog would work with unions, NHS Trusts, local authorities and care providers to ensure all staff know how to access the scheme and give them the confidence that their wellbeing was being championed and protected.
The pandemic has exacerbated an already grim picture for staff mental health. Almost five million working days were lost to poor mental health in 2019; stress is estimated to account for over 30% of NHS staff absence at a cost of up to £400 million a year; the BMA says 41% of doctors suffer with depression, anxiety, stress and other mental health conditions relating to their work; and more than half of carers say they are emotionally exhausted, according to the IPPR.
Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, Labour’s Shadow Mental Health Minister, said:
“Even before the pandemic hit, the case for investing in this kind of support was clear. 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.
“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.”