"Whilst these results are in some ways not surprising, they should serve as a stark reminder to NHS managers of the pressing need to protect the mental health of ICU workers now in order to ensure they can deliver vital care to those in need."
The study highlighted that staff faced a particularly challenging time frequently working in areas where the perceived risk of Covid-19 exposure is high for long periods, wearing PPE, with the challenges of managing staff and equipment shortages on a daily basis especially during the first wave. They also had to deal with ethically challenging decisions as well as potentially being fearful of catching Covid-19 themselves and potentially passing it on to their loved ones.
The researchers said that further work is needed to better understand the real level of clinical need amongst ICU staff as self-report questionnaires can overestimate the rate of clinically relevant mental health symptoms.
Professor Greenberg added: "Evidence-based mechanisms should be in place so all healthcare workers, including ICU staff, can promptly access treatment for mental health issues. If we protect the mental health of healthcare workers during the Covid-19 pandemic, staff will be better able to sustainably deliver high quality care to the large numbers of patients seriously unwell with Covid-19.
"Our results highlight the potential profound impact that Covid-19 has had on the mental health of frontline UK staff and indicate an urgent need for a national strategy to protect staff mental health and decrease the risk of functional impairment of ICU staff while they carry out their essential work during Covid-19 and beyond."
This research was a collaboration between King’s College London and University College London with important contributions from the Behavioural Science Team, Emergency Response Department Science & Technology, Public Health England and the University of Oxford. The research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research Health Protection Research Unit (NIHR HPRU) in Emergency Preparedness and Response at King’s College London in partnership with Public Health England (PHE), in collaboration with the University of East Anglia and Newcastle University.