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NHS Workers: Mental Health

Volume 677: debated on Tuesday 23 June 2020

What steps his Department is taking to support the mental health of NHS workers during the covid-19 outbreak. (903689)

What steps his Department is taking to support the mental health of NHS workers during the covid-19 outbreak. (903697)

What steps his Department is taking to support the mental health of NHS workers during the covid-19 outbreak. (903703)

Our NHS workers—from the doctors, nurses and allied health professionals to the healthcare assistants, porters and all those who work behind the scenes—are truly heroes. I wish to say a special thank you to students: thank you to the medical students and nursing students who courageously stepped up to work at the frontline in a global pandemic. I am determined to do all that we can for our NHS workers. We have set up a round-the-clock mental health support line, which includes a freephone helpline run by the Samaritans and an out-of-hours text support service provided by Shout.

I thank the Minister for her answer and wish her a very happy birthday.

Owing to physical challenges with geography in rural communities, such as much of my Truro and Falmouth constituency, there can be higher incidences of mental health issues, loneliness and isolation, and that has been intensified by the covid-19 pandemic. Will my hon. Friend provide an update on departmental plans for support for mental health issues in rural communities?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we anticipate an increase in demand for mental health support, including in rural communities, as a result of the pandemic. We are working with the NHS and a wide range of stakeholders to understand the need for mental health support all over the country and to make sure that that support is in place.

In my regular meetings with the Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust, the issue of staff mental health has been repeatedly raised as a serious concern, especially among staff who are working with covid patients. Will the Minister join me in thanking those staff at New Cross Hospital and reassuring them that mental health support will be available for all staff who need it?

I would be delighted to join my hon. Friend in thanking the staff at New Cross Hospital for all that they have been doing in these incredibly difficult times. Mental health support absolutely should be, and is, there. There is the mental health support helpline and the text messaging service. It is also really important that NHS trusts take steps locally to ensure that their staff have the support that they need.

When we stood with our neighbours and clapped for the carers, we showed solidarity across the nation with them and recognised the strain, stress and anxiety under which many of them were working. Can the Minister assure me—and say what practical steps can be taken to ensure—that, as they work through the experiences they have had, they will get the care and support that are necessary for them, and that we care for our carers?

The clap for carers initiative was fantastic because it was a moment when we showed, as a nation, our support for our health and social care workers, but my right hon. and learned Friend is right to say that clapping is not enough. One thing that I want to do in the months ahead is bring forward the people plan—work that had to be paused because of covid—and to ensure that it includes all possible support for the NHS workforce, so that the NHS can be the best place to work in the world.

Even before the covid pandemic, our frontline NHS and care staff were already working in overstretched and under-resourced settings. It is heartbreaking to see how the virus has taken its toll on them. They have had to deal with redeployment, not enough PPE, a fear of losing patients and getting ill themselves. These are all factors leading to staff burnout and very poor mental health. After all their sacrifices, our frontline staff deserve to have their mental health taken seriously. Is the Minister satisfied with the Government’s current package of support for frontline NHS and care staff?

The hon. Member is absolutely right about how hard it has been for NHS staff stepping up, and we cannot say enough how grateful we are for what they have done. I also recognise the mental health burdens on the NHS workforce who have worked in these really stressful circumstances. It is important not only that the package of support is there now, but that it is there for some time to come, because we know that the trauma and effects of working in these environments may take a while to play through.