NHS workers turn to military veterans charity for support with front line Covid stress

A Co Down charity which is used to giving mental health support to soldiers returning from battle zones has increasingly found NHS staff turning to it for help.

Tuesday, 27th April 2021, 6:30 am

Robert McCartney, chairman of Ards-based charity Beyond the Battlefield, said that 20% of his clients are now doctors and nurses who have been battling Covid on the frontlines.

The charity specialises in wrap-around support for former soldiers who have experienced the most brutal aspects of war in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and indeed Northern Ireland – many of whom now wrestle with conditions such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“We have quite a few doctors and nurses coming to us now for support,” said Mr McCartney.

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Doctors and nurses are still suffering serious pressures due to the pandemic and the backlog of patients.

“Twenty per cent of our clients now are NHS workers and not from the military. 

“The pressures they are talking about are that they are overworked, dealing with so many deaths and enduring tough working conditions. Then there is also the impact of turning families away from visits when their loved ones are so seriously ill.”

Dr Tom Black, BMA NI Council chair, said: “For many doctors the pandemic has been one of the most challenging times of their career.

“From a survey we did of BMA members in February 16% of doctors who responded said their health and well-being was much worse now than this time last year and 40% said it was worse; 62% reported their level of fatigue and exhaustion was much higher than normal. For some doctors what they have faced during the pandemic will have a lasting legacy on them, and for some it will be PTSD.

“Our survey also found that due to the pandemic, pressure to address backlog is now rising. We are concerned that many will now choose to either leave the health service or reduce their hours which will mean increasing pressure throughout the service.”

Rita Devlin, acting director of the Royal College of Nursing in Northern Ireland, said it has consistently raised concerns with employers and the Department of Health about the health and well-being of nurses and the long-term impact of working within a pandemic on a scale never experienced before.

She added: “Nurses are reporting feelings of fatigue, anxiety and moral distress associated with dealing with high levels of death and dying patients, and the difficult experience of supporting relatives who were unable to see their families.”

Richard Graham, chair of the British Dental Association’s NI Dental Practice Committee, said his members are also suffering. “Dentists are physically and mentally exhausted and there seems to be no end in sight,” he said.

Uniquely in the NHS, he said, they wear heavy PPE for almost their entire shifts, while practices can only take half their normal patients, causing great financial strain.

:: BDA dentists’ helpline 0800 030 5182; HSCB dentists’ helpline 0800 389 5362; RCN nurses’ helpline 345 772 6100; BMA doctors’ well-being helpline 0330 123 1245; Samaritans helpline 116 123.

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