Time to prioritise the mental health of our care workers?

As the pandemic continues, more statistics are coming to light in respect of the wider impact COVID-19 has had, not least on the mental health of frontline care workers. A survey undertaken by the trade union GMB found that 75% of care workers said that their work during this pandemic has led to their mental health being negatively affected. The survey found that many felt their mental health had declined during the second wave of the pandemic, with whose who were only entitled to statutory sick pay reporting lower mental health scores. 

The Worldwide Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Office for Europe recently produced a short film with healthcare workers discussing the impact the pandemic has had on their mental health, as well as the challenges they have faced, whilst providing care throughout for their patients. The main mental health consequences raised were loneliness, elevated stress levels or anxiety, insomnia and depression. There is no doubt that those providing frontline care throughout, have borne the brunt of the pandemic. Care workers have continued to provide care and support to their patients and the wider public throughout the pandemic, bravely facing the challenges this has thrown at them. 

In view of everything frontline care workers have done since the pandemic hit, the question is now, can more be done to support those same workers at a time where they need it most? GMB stated that urgent action needs to be done to deal with what it calls a ‘mental health crisis’. Such measures, it suggests, ought to include full sick pay for care workers, an increase in wages and funding for mental health services specific to those within the care sector. Calls have been made for the care sector to be fully reformed, with the GMB National Officer for Care, Rachel Harrison stating:

If any good is to come out of this pandemic then it must include urgent reform of the sector. Ministers and employers need to explain how they are going to care for the people who have cared for us. ‘As a minimum, this must include dedicated national mental health services, a substantial increase in pay, and full sick pay cover so that care workers can afford to self-isolate when they are ill – no-one should be asked to live on £96.35 a week.”

Likewise, the WHO has stated that one of its main focal points is for an increased protection of health and care workers’ mental health and wellbeing.

It would be fair to say that the general public have been in awe of how frontline care workers and NHS staff have worked so tirelessly during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that unrivalled care is provided. Reform for the care sector feels as though it has been a long time coming, however the pandemic has shone an increased spotlight on how deserving frontline carers are for greater support, whether that is financial or in respect of their mental health and wellbeing. All being well, it looks as though the country is moving closer to normality and so now, it seems only right that we turn our attention to looking after the people within our community who have shown such resilience throughout the most challenging of times, in any way we can. Particularly, in light of more studies finding that the care that such workers provided, may have been given to the detriment of their own mental wellbeing.

Whether these issues manifest into claims or litigation it is too early to say but there is little doubt that there has been an expectation that we may see more stress related type claims arising from the care sector as a result of the pandemic.


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Emily Pilsbury, Solicitor, BLM
emily.pilsbury@blmlaw.com

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