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Labour demands ‘Care for Carers’ package to fix ‘inadequate’ mental health support for coronavirus frontline staff

The plans have been unveiled by Rosena Allin-Khan, Labour’s shadow mental health minister. (PA)

3 min read

Labour is calling for the “inadequate” mental health support given to NHS and care staff to be overhauled in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Shadow Health Minister Rosena Allin-Khan has demanded a new four-stage ‘Care for Carers’ package that the party says will address shortcomings in existing support and help tackle a “crisis in mental health“.

The opposition says the new service would offer a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week hotline for all NHS and care staff — including contracted workers such as porters, cleaners and support staff — as well as follow-up mental health support and treatment.

It would include specialised support for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder in the wake of the pandemic, as well as help in directing people to alcohol and addiction services if they need them.

Labour say the current mental health support offered to frontline staff is “inadequate”, with an existing support line not available to contractors and offering only “emotional support and signposting” rather than psychological therapies.
The party is also calling for a new “national wellbeing guardian” to be appointed to hold the NHS and employers to account for the mental health of their staff and help promote the scheme.

Dr Allin-Khan said: “Even before the pandemic hit, the case for investing in this kind of support was clear. Coronavirus has exacerbated the existing crisis in mental health.

“Many NHS and social care staff have been scared of going to work, and they have lost patients and colleagues. It has been heartbreaking to witness the toll this virus has taken on staff mental health.”

A survey carried out by doctors’ union British Medical Association earlier this month found that 41% of medics were suffering with depression, anxiety, stress, burnout or other mental health conditions “relating to or made worse by their work”. 

Twenty-nine (29%) said this had gotten worse during the pandemic, while the union said its own support services had seen a 40% increase in use during the pandemic.

The Labour frontbencher added: “Current support is not good enough, and without a tailored, fast-tracked service for staff who have faced death and despair every day for over three months, our frontline heroes will continue to be failed.

“We need to care for our carers. It is time for the Government to give back to those who have sacrificed so much to keep our loved ones safe. Unless our staff are protected, they cannot continue their vital work of keeping us all safe.” 

Labour says its proposed scheme “could be delivered at £25 per head” based on existing programmes available in Wales, with the plan rolled out to cover a potential 3.1million staff with a total cost of £78m.

They estimate that the introduction of the new national wellbeing watchdog — including office, staffing and research costs — would come with a £3.2m a year price tag. 

The call has been welcomed by the GMB union, whose members have held talks with Labour to outline the mental distress Covid-19 is placing them under.

The Labour-backing union’s national secretary for public services Rehana Azam said: “Our precious resource throughout the pandemic has been our key workers. We have heard every day from frontline workers telling us that they are at breaking point. The stress they have been under over the last few months has been unprecedented. 

“GMB is pleased that Labour have recognised the mental health crisis our workers face and hope the government recognise this and look seriously at these proposals.”

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