'I get woken by nightmares': Sheffield nurse breaks silence on Covid mental health 'tsunami'
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Joan Pons Laplana is frequently woken by nightmares brought on by what he has witnessed on the Covid wards of Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, and he claims many colleagues not just there but across the country are feeling the strain more than ever.
He insists additional support is needed to protect the mental health of those vulnerable workers on the frontline of the battle against the war against coronavirus.
Mr Laplana, who is a Unison rep, is usually office-based but was drafted in to work in intensive care during the first wave of the pandemic and says he has been asked to return due to the rising number of Covid patients.
"I’m very worried about the mental health of NHS staff, including myself,” he said.
"People are tired emotionally and physically, morale is low and the next four weeks could be the toughest of our entire careers, but we keep going.
"It’s like watching a tsunami. You just hope that when the wave hits you will be able to keep standing but I fear many of us won’t be able to keep standing much longer.
"I will go back to intensive care if I’m needed but some of the things I witnessed during the first wave are still waking me up at night and will probably stay with me for the rest of my life so I know it’s going to be hard.”Mr Laplana said he had been getting free counselling which has helped but he was told his next session would be his last because there is a limit of six free sessions a year despite the extraordinary circumstances.
"I don’t understand why when you’re dealing with the worst pandemics anyone can remember mental health care is being rationed like this,” he said.
"The counselling has helped me a lot and I couldn’t believe it when I was told the next session would be my last. It’s like discharging someone with an open wound. You don’t do that so why should it be different for mental health?”
NHS England pointed out that it had announced an extra £15 million just last October to improve mental health support for healthcare workers.
Dr Jennifer Hill, medical director (operations) at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We are continually monitoring staff wellbeing and there is definitely no limit on the 24-hour telephone counselling service we have available for all staff to use regardless of their role.
"If a colleague feels they need more in-depth support due to professional or personal reasons we would discuss this with them and agree an appropriate care plan moving forward.
"We encourage all our staff to take their annual leave, have regular breaks and have over 80 calm rooms across the hospitals so there is a place for staff to get away from things for a while during busy shifts.
"We are also in the process of creating more outdoor space for staff to use as we know this helps with wellbeing too. We have recruited many more staff and introduced new roles to help ease increased pressures.”