The Pandemic’s Impact on the Mental Health of Britain’s Health and Social Care Workers

woman in blue and red school uniform standing on road during daytime
woman in blue and red school uniform standing on road during daytime
Protests about NHS Workers pay. Photo by: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona/Unsplash

The pandemic has been extremely impactful on the mental health of many. Research now suggests that it has taken an especially large toll on those who care for the most vulnerable. 

According to new research by the University of Roehampton, nearly a third of healthcare workers reported moderate to severe levels of anxiety and depression. The number reporting very severe symptoms of mental health issues quadrupled during the pandemic. Researchers cite high workload, a lack of sufficient PPE and workplace preparation or training as the factors most strongly linked to severe symptoms.

Specific support for health workers is available on the NHS People section of the NHS website, and the CARE workforce app for care workers. Coaching and welfare support, including for bereavement is available. The government also recommends wellbeing apps such as Silvercloud, Sleepio and Daylight. 

However, it appears as though a significant part of health and care workers’ grievances are with the material conditions of their work. While the government plans to spend £500 million on mental health services, it refused proposals for a 12.5% pay rise for nurses, opting for 1% instead. This rise, given the predicted inflation rate for the coming year, would amount to a real-terms cut in nurses’ wages.

GMB, a general trade union for the United Kingdom, are urging the government to take action to support nearly three-quarters of care workers who have seen their mental health deteriorate during the pandemic.

The trade union conducted a survey of 1,200 social care workers, finding that anxiety levels were 44% higher than other jobs.

This worsened through the UK’s second wave of coronavirus, with care workers reporting poorer mental health over the December-January period than in September to October. Low pay, insecure employment (zero-hour contracts are common in social care) are the main causes of this, according to GMB.

Rachel Harrison, GMB’s National Officer for care, stated, “For too many, the combined effect of poor employment conditions and the pandemic has been too much to bear.” She also called for “urgent reform of the sector.”

For this reason, GMB are calling for dedicated national mental health services, a significant increase in pay, and full sick pay cover for social care workers that have to self-isolate.

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