Health secretary Matt Hancock has faced criticism for a lack of mental health support for NHS workers during the Covid-19 pandemic as figures showed the damaging impact on frontline staff.
At the Downing Street press conference on Friday, the minister was asked by HuffPost UK’s Ned Simons what support he would give for NHS staff “other than asking the public to clap” in light of 3.5m sick days taken in England due to mental ill health between March and October last year.
It comes after The i reported on Thursday that there is to be no pay rise for NHS staff in chancellor Rishi Sunak’s budget next week.
The Labour Party has called for targeted mental health support for the health service workforce, and says the pandemic, which has been a factor in more than 120,000 deaths in the UK, is having a “profound impact on their psychological wellbeing”.
Hancock was asked: ”What more are you going to do to support NHS staff other than ask the public to clap?”
He responded: “There’s a huge amount of support being put in place to ensure that staff, especially those who’ve had a really tough time in this second wave of the pandemic [...] to ensure that NHS staff get the R and R that they need.
“Of course employment in the NHS is down to the individual trust, and there’s a huge amount of work going on to make sure people get the support to deal with traumatic experiences they may have had.
“I’ve seen the pressures that NHS staff are under [...] when you are dealing with people and the death rate is so high that has a significant psychological impact so we are putting in place that support to make sure people on the front line in what can be traumatic situations get the professional support they need, as well as the HR support they need.”
Rosena Allin-Khan, Labour’s shadow mental health minister: “Frontline NHS staff have been doing an incredible job throughout this pandemic, but the added pressure this virus brings has had a profound impact on their psychological wellbeing.
“The level of death our workforce has had to experience is unimaginable. Without access to tailored mental health support, staff mental health will continue to suffer.
“The government refused to meet to discuss Labour’s ‘Care for Carers’ package of support for all health and care staff. The offer is still open should the government wish to extend mental health support to all carers and support staff.”