Labour proposes ‘Care for Carers’ to support mental health of staff

Sienna Rodgers
© David Woolfall/CC BY 3.0

Labour has proposed a new four-stage ‘Care for Carers’ package designed by the party to support the mental health of over three million NHS and care staff in England.

The plan includes:

  1. A new national hotline available 24 hours a day, seven days a week
  2. Follow-up support, including specialist assessments and referrals
  3. Intervention and treatment, including specialised PTSD support
  4. Follow-up and sign-posted to external services, such as alcohol and addiction services

Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, Labour’s spokesperson on mental health, has called for the “shake-up” amid the coronavirus pandemic to ensure that staff receive fast-tracked help.

The shadow minister 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.”

The package being put forward by Labour would cover private sector staff doing NHS and social care work and contracted workers who are more likely to be low-paid and employed on insecure contracts.

Allin-Khan 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.” 

The national hotline would provide “general advice and empathetic listening”, with an option for moving to a specialist assessment if needed – which would lead to stage two of the plan.

The second step would allow workers to be referred to psychological support and unlimited telephone support, and if necessary move on to intervention and treatment in stage three.

This would involve access to therapies, including specialised post-traumatic stress disorder support, and workers could then make use of sign-posted services via patient follow-up.

Labour is also calling on the government to appoint a new independent national wellbeing guardian who would coordinate and oversee the implementation of ‘Care for Carers’.

Health Education England revealed last year that the cost of poor mental health in the NHS equates to £1,794-£2,174 per employee per year, and one in three have felt unwell due to work-related stress.

The June 2020 BMA survey saw 41% of doctors responding say they suffered with depression, anxiety, stress or another mental health condition relating to work or made worse by it.

Members of Labour-affiliated trade union GMB have met with Labour’s health team to outline the problems they have faced during the pandemic, including increases in PTSD.

Providing testimonials about their trauma and grief following the deaths of colleagues, patients and residents, they told Labour that there was a lack of services available.

The new package has been backed by GMB, and UNISON has agreed with Labour that occupational health assistance support should be “much more tailored to suit individual needs”.

UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “The government needs to get much better at looking after all those who do so much to look after all of us.”

Unite national officer Jacalyn Williams said: “These plans would create much needed support for the mental health of NHS and care staff who have faced the brunt of the worst impacts of the pandemic day after day.”

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