NHS foundation trusts across the North East are working together to protect the mental health of frontline staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wellbeing initiatives have been introduced to provide additional support during what continues to be an extremely challenging time for acute hospital staff.
‘Wobble’ rooms, mental health first aid and staff support phone lines are already in place at hospitals including The James Cook University Hospital, University Hospital of North Durham and University Hospital of North Tees.
Additionally, clinical psychologists from Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust (TEWV) have been redeployed to neighbouring trusts to offer mental health support to their acute colleagues across the region.
Originally set up during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the mental health and wellbeing initiatives have since been reintroduced after proving popular with staff members who accessed the services.
‘A listening ear when people need it’
The medical psychology team at The James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough is providing services ranging from one-to-one support and reflective group sessions, to setting up helplines and creating bespoke rooms to give staff somewhere calm where they can take time out.
Clinical psychologist Dr Carey Viala said teams across the region are working hard to prevent mental health issues occurring during this extremely challenging time: “We currently have a daily presence in critical care so people can drop in if they need us. We always try to be present and visible and ensure there is a listening ear when people need it. Providing a space for people to talk about what’s going on helps them to process it better.”
Clinical psychologist Dr Alice Webster, said: “We understand distress as a very human and appropriate reaction to the situation and our current work involves supporting staff to understand and cope with this intensity.
“We are observing remarkable compassion in the care that is given to patients and it is a privilege to work alongside the critical care teams at this time; our job has involved assisting them to remember the huge amount of skill and capability which they possess both as individuals and as teams.
“Our priorities are in preventing mental ill health and promoting psychological recovery with the expectation that the majority of people will recover from this stress if the appropriate support mechanisms are in place.”
The team also regularly updates its online resources including wellbeing exercise and relaxation videos which can be accessed by staff from all departments across South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
Feedback from staff has been really positive, with Carey adding: “A number of our managers have said the staff support sessions have been beneficial to their team and that people have felt better afterwards.”
“The team have been the biggest support to one another”
Staff at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust hospitals can utilise an anonymous telephone helpline, book slots with a qualified psychological professional or access face-to-face psychology and staff support in clinical areas.
Steph Gale, clinical co-ordinator in critical care, said: “During the pandemic we could not have been more supported in terms of psychological and staff wellbeing.
“We had the opportunity to use a wellbeing bus, which provided staff with a safe space to break away from the clinical environment and focus on themselves for a short period of time. We also had a room within critical care to replicate this environment.
“We are lucky that we now have access to the Rainbow Room which was funded by donations for Captain Sir Tom Moore. This incredible donation really has made a difference to staff and provided a long term space for them to take a much needed rest.
“The psychology team have been amazing throughout, providing group counselling, team times, one-on-one sessions and difficult debriefs. Their focus has been helping staff to process such vast changes to our everyday working and supporting their mental wellbeing throughout.
“We are lucky to have some fantastic virtual breathe work sessions to provide a more holistic approach to supporting staff and giving them time to recharge and regroup.
“The team in critical care have also been the biggest support to one another and have truly demonstrated their compassion and resilience.”
Dr Vicky Jervis, consultant clinical psychologist at Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust was redeployed to University Hospital of North Tees in January, after spending time in the neighbouring South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust during the first wave of the pandemic.
She said: “The Staff Psychological Support Hub (SPSH) reports suggest that everyone is now recognising that at this stage of the pandemic, unlike perhaps at the beginning, the challenges are much greater.
“We know admissions this time round have far exceeded the previous peak, so not surprisingly we’re seeing a lot of trauma symptoms emerging across the staff groups. But the most common experience is one of absolute exhaustion, and a struggle to maintain hope that things will get better when the pace is so relentless.
“But there’s a determination there too, and this amazing shared commitment, to do everything they can for their patients, often to the detriment of their own wellbeing. It’s truly humbling.”
‘Wellbeing of staff is a priority’
At County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, an online health and wellbeing hub gives all staff easy access to a range of resources, local and national support offers and a wide variety of workshops.
A ‘listening ear service’ has been created to provide coaching to a number of different staff and the trust has also piloted a long COVID clinic to help staff in their recovery from Coronavirus.
The trust has also appointed a clinical lead for occupational health and a psychologist, as part of its commitment to ensuring the wellbeing of all its staff are a priority.
To complement the other wellbeing initiatives that County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust has on offer, coaches from Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Trust have been providing coaching sessions for clinical leaders who are supporting their staff teams going through these tough times.
Dr Nicola Baylis, consultant psychiatrist and coach at TEWV said: “It has also been a difficult time for those leading at the front line. Giving them time and space to think about the best ways that they can help others and keep themselves going is important too.”
To find out about mental health services offered by Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust visit the TEWV website.