Dr Luke Evans is a member of the Health Select Committee, and is MP for Bosworth.
Very early on during the Coronavirus crisis, I instituted with my team the idea of twice daily virtual meetings. For 20 minutes or so at the start and end of each day, we would all stop work and debrief each other on our daily workload, and the calls that we had taken from worried constituents.
Whilst those regular conference calls were very much about managing caseloads, I don’t think it is possible to underestimate their importance in giving my whole team and I the opportunity to sound off or to share ideas and worries. At a time when so much work is being done in isolation at dining room tables, those calls have become invaluable not only in planning work but to our collective mental health too.
The work of an MP and his caseworkers can be stressful and lonely. As a medic, I knew how important scheduling in regular and frequent conversations would be. I’m very conscious at this time that there are jobs whose impact can have a far more devastating effect on mental health.
A couple of weeks ago I was able to ask Matt Hancock about what the Government was planning to do to protect the long-term mental health of front-line NHS staff. Facing death and grief daily, often with patients dying alone, means the risk of suffering long term mental health issues such as PTSD is a very real one. It’s an issue that I returned to earlier this week in The House Magazine.
The Secretary of State reassured me that his Department had already acted to introduce a 24 hour mental health hotline for NHS staff but, in an environment which health staff will continue to work in long after Coronavirus has subsided, I fear that what is needed is much more than a telephone number, as welcome as that is.
The NHS is a wonderful institution whose greatest asset is its dedicated and hardworking staff and, much like my own small parliamentary team, NHS staff rely on each other.
At a time when burnout to countless staff is a very real threat, and the looming concerns of a second spike and returning to waiting lists which have necessarily been put on hold, in the coming months those teams will be at breaking point.
NHS staff know that if they step out of the daily routine to address their own mental health that others will have to pick up the slack, and so many fail to do so until they can carry on no more.
We have to make sure that there are not only helplines but that both they and general mental health support are highly visible. We have to make sure that it’s not only OK to step out, but highly desirable if you’re finding it difficult. To seek support at an early stage is far preferable to crisis further down the line.
A doctor will often become frustrated at a patient who refuses to take the medicine that is prescribed for them, and yet all too many medics will fail to follow their own advice.
As we move gradually out of lockdown we have to highlight the mental health impacts that this outbreak will have had on our frontline staff, that they will be prone to PTSD, that many will suffer burnout.
For the Government it’s not even particularly about money but about the culture of our NHS. We have to say to our front line workers it’s OK not to be OK, and that we support you on your road back to good mental health.