The NHS has launched a mental health hotline to offer support to hundreds of thousands of health workers on the frontline in the fight against coronavirus.
Anyone needing help with the pressures they are facing will be able to call or text a free number staffed by more than 1,500 trained volunteers.
The volunteers, including from Hospice UK, the Samaritans and Shout, will listen to NHS staff – or those from social care – and give psychological support to those in need.
Staff can also be signposted to further support, such as financial assistance or specialist bereavement and psychological services.
The phone line will be open between 7am and 11pm every day and the text service will be 24/7.
Prerana Issar, chief people officer for the NHS, said: “We need to do everything we can to support our incredible NHS people as they care for people through this global health emergency.
“That’s why we have developed a range of support for all NHS staff, from one-to-one mental health support to a sympathetic voice to confide in.
“The NHS is rightly doing everything we can for our staff, but the best thing the public can do for nurses, doctors and other NHS staff, is to protect them by staying indoors and washing your hands.”
The NHS has also partnered with Headspace, UnMind and Big Health to offer free apps to staff.
The apps include areas such as guided meditation, practical help with anxiety and help with sleep problems.
Dame Til Wykes, professor of clinical psychology and rehabilitation at King’s College London, said: “I am glad there is so much support being volunteered.
“In the longer term this may also be important but in the beginning staff need a reduction in their worries and concerns so a priority should be access to resources like accommodation, contacts with friends and family, no worries about finances, food and toilet paper …… and of course sleep and reducing concern over inadequate PPE (personal protective equipment).
“That would reduce anxiety now. Next on the list is team support so extra help is needed as soon as it is noticed.
“The team in China set up a mental health line and hardly anyone called. King’s College hospital set up a rest and relaxation room and in one day 700 people used it.”
Professor Tom Dening, from the Institute of Mental Health, University of Nottingham, said: “The mental health of NHS staff is going to be absolutely crucial in the nation’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Staff are being exposed to high levels of personal risk, long hours in difficult environments clad in PPE, and also the possibility of something known as moral injury, which is the distressing awareness you may feel when you know you can’t meet all the needs of the people you are trying to care for.
“This combination of factors would rattle even the most resilient of us. Most support for NHS workers is going to be within their teams, with their peer workers, and being supported by their managers, but there will be occasions when it is a relief to talk to someone outside of the immediate workplace.
“Hopefully this new initiative will be evaluated to make sure that it is being used and that it is seen as helpful by people who use it.”
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said: “As the pandemic continues, our people will face new and growing challenges on a daily basis, and it’s therefore more important than ever that they are able to access resources to help them manage their wellbeing, in a way that suits their needs.”
The phone number is 0300 131 7000 while staff can text FRONTLINE to 85258.