Frontline mental health staff ‘in danger’ over lack of PPE and testing

Psychiatrists have warned that mental health units face being hit with a surge of Covid-19 cases because staff are unable to get tested or access the protective equipment they need, the Guardian has reported. 

Professor Wendy Burn, the president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “I fear we could see a care-home style crisis sweeping through mental health units, with many patients and staff contracting the virus”. 

Despite the fact that most medical appointments are now being carried out virtually or via telephone, many psychiatrists and staff are still seeing patients face to face — in the community or in inpatient settings, including eating disorder services. 

This is putting them at higher risk of getting Covid-19 and passing it onto their colleagues and family members at home. 

A survey carried out by the college revealed that 23 per cent of psychiatrists in the UK could not access the right PPE, and only half of psychiatrists reported being able to get a coronavirus test for themselves. This fell to 30 per cent when trying to access testing for family members. 

Dr Adrian James, the college’s registrar, said that “all healthcare settings…should be treated the same” and that “not all our buildings are set up to withstand infection control…we’re hearing some real fear from our frontline psychiatrists who are putting themselves and their families in danger every time they go to work”. 

Jake Mills, founder and CEO of Chasing the Stigma, the organisation behind the Hub of Hope and Ambassador of Hope training programme, said: “It is unacceptable that mental health staff are not being provided with the protective equipment needed to keep themselves safe, and adequate access to testing”. 

“While many mental health services have switched online or via telephone, this is not always possible — and in life threatening situations, face to face intervention is the only option. The government should be doing everything in its power to ensure that all NHS staff are protected during this pandemic, be it physical or mental health staff.”

“The health secretary has made it clear that he is taking into consideration the impact that the pandemic is having on people’s mental health, but he must intensify his support for frontline staff who are putting their lives on the line to provide essential mental health support and treatment to those in the community and hospitals.”