Day 100 of COVID-19 pandemic: RCN wants urgent action to protect NHS staff

Eight priorities for governments and employers include PPE and mental health support 

Picture: Alamy

As the UK enters the 100th day of the COVID-19 pandemic, the RCN has issued a call to action to governments and employers on eight priority areas. 

One area is mental health support for staff who have been working in what the college calls ‘stressful, exhausting and traumatic’ environments.

Survey finds stress and depression among staff

A recent survey of 4,063 members of the nursing and midwifery workforce in the UK, led by academics and NHS staff, found that respondents reported ongoing depression, anxiety, stress, and emerging signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dame Donna Kinnair

RCN general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said nursing staff had shown ‘remarkable leadership, professionalism and commitment’ since the World Health Organization declared the pandemic on 11 March.

 ‘As we move past the peak of the epidemic, we must care for those who’ve been caring,’ she added.

‘It is vital that our governments and employers, including the NHS, take steps now to protect our health and social care services and staff, who have done such remarkable work at a time of crisis.’

Risk to BAME staff, PPE and reopening services are among priorities

The RCN’s eight priority areas are:

  • Timely access to confidential counselling and psychological support for all staff, to which they can self-refer
  • Full and proper risk assessments for staff to control the risk of exposure to COVID-19 
  • Increased risk faced by black, Asian and minority ethnic nursing staff to be considered in all actions and undertakings
  • Staff must not be pressurised into working without the correct PPE for their environment
  • Staff must be enabled to take breaks at work and annual leave, and working patterns must be reviewed and controlled to prevent long shifts or excess hours being worked
  • Nurses should ‘lead the way’ in ensuring redeployed nursing staff can return to their roles
  • A clear pathway must be developed to enable nursing students to return to their studies
  • Nurse leaders should be given authority to transform, reopen and rebuild services safely

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said supporting the mental health and wellbeing of staff was 'a top priority' and had been increased with a mental health hotline, practical support, financial advice, specialist bereavement and psychological support.

'We would urge anyone struggling to come forward and speak to a colleague, their occupational health team or to call the helpline so that they can get the help they need.'

NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer said employers 'agree entirely' with the RCN’s emphasis on supporting the health and wellbeing of NHS teams, saying this had been a particular focus during the pandemic and wold continue long-term.

'Ongoing national actions to improve supplies of PPE and access to testing are also important components of reducing the anxiety felt by our people.'

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