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Aftermath of London terror attacks and Grenfell: 89% of nurses involved did not seek psychological support

Survey found staff turned to colleagues rather than seek professional help.
Emotional support

Nurses at a major London trust who cared for patients following two terror attacks in the capital, and the Grenfell Tower fire, were more likely to talk to colleagues than seek professional help to deal with the emotional impact of their care-giving, a survey shows.

Staff at Kings College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust treated casualties from the Westminster Bridge and London Bridge terror attacks in March and June. They also cared for people affected by the Grenfell Tower fire, also in June.

A survey of the trusts nurses who provided care at these incidents found that they felt more comfortable talking about the events with colleagues of a similar grade and skill mix, than to therapists, hospital chaplains or even their own family.

The survey was conducted by trust staff nurses, including Christopher Kirby and Hannah

Nurses at a major London trust who cared for patients following two terror attacks in the capital, and the Grenfell Tower fire, were more likely to talk to colleagues than seek professional help to deal with the emotional impact of their care-giving, a survey shows.


The Grenfell Tower fire in June. Picture: iStock

Staff at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust treated casualties from the Westminster Bridge and London Bridge terror attacks in March and June. They also cared for people affected by the Grenfell Tower fire, also in June.

A survey of the trust’s nurses who provided care at these incidents found that they felt more comfortable talking about the events with colleagues of a similar grade and skill mix, than to therapists, hospital chaplains or even their own family.

The survey was conducted by trust staff nurses, including Christopher Kirby and Hannah Eastman.

After-effects of major incidents

Ms Eastman told the Pan-London Trauma Nurses Conference on 11 December: ‘We wanted to explore the effect on nurses of three major incidents in three months and the horrific things they saw.’

A total of 36 nurses from bands 5 to 8 responded, 42% of whom provided care at one incident, 22% at two and 8% at three, while 28% were not directly involved in any of the incidents.

Respondents who were involved in the incidents described experiencing emotions ranging from ‘overwhelmed’ and ‘exhausted’ to ‘wired’ and ‘angry’.

A third of them reported experiencing some form of disruption to their everyday life following the incidents.

This included 'over-indulging' on alcohol, feeling nervous and argumentative, experiencing sleep problems, and withdrawing from friends and family.

The terminology of trauma 

Mr Kirby described the phenomena as 'vicarious trauma'.

He said: 'It is also known as compassion fatigue and can be confused with burnout, but burnout differs because it happens over a more gradual period of time.'


Nurses sought emotional support from colleagues. Picture: iStock

Other findings included:

  • 89% of respondents who were involved in the incidents sought no psychological support – despite it being offered.
  • 83% did not attend any debriefs.
  • 58% admitted to still having unresolved issues regarding the incidents.
  • Of those not directly involved in any incidents, 43% still felt affected by them.

Mr Kirby added: ‘If people wanted to talk about these incidents, there seemed to be a desire to do it with colleagues who were there and went through it with them.

‘Ghosts of past patients can follow you your whole career, and we all have a duty of care to each other.’


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