Health workers are struggling to cope with the impact of the coronavirus crisis, suffering severe mental health problems such as panic attacks and having sleepless nights, new research suggests.
Unison called for free 24-hour helplines and other measures to help staff on the front line of the pandemic.
Almost half of 14,000 health employees including nurses, porters, paramedics, healthcare assistants and A&E staff across the UK surveyed by the union said they have struggled to cope.
Helplines were urgently needed to support those experiencing burnout, especially as hospital admissions continue to soar, said Unison.
Some respondents said they have experienced suicidal thoughts, post traumatic stress disorder symptoms and panic attacks, felt helpless when supporting patients – or quit their jobs altogether.
Others said their mental health has been affected by having to leave rented accommodation because landlords are worried about Covid-19, or fears they will infect their families, according to the findings.
The results showed that half have sought mental health support, with the majority turning to friends, family and colleagues.
Unison’s head of health Sara Gorton said: “The pressure on staff of keeping us safe during Covid has been relentless.
“Many are exhausted with no let-up in sight given the increase in hospital admissions and backlog of cancelled treatments. Others are traumatised from seeing patients die before their time – no one can comprehend the toll this has taken.
“Pay rates must rise soon or staff could leave. The Government needs to step in to help the NHS hold on to people. That means supporting their mental health as well as their financial wellbeing.
“To help avoid an exodus, ministers should extend psychological support and guarantee a decent pay increase.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “A dedicated 24/7 support service is already available to front line staff, and the NHS has invested £15 million to provide dedicated mental health support, alongside practical and financial advice, and develop a national support service for critical care staff who are most vulnerable to severe trauma plus a host of other support options.
“We strongly encourage any staff who might be struggling to get the support they need by approaching a trusted colleague, their occupational health team, or by reaching out to helplines and support services.”