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The mental health of staff working on intensive care units over the COVID-19 winter surge of 2020 in England: a cross sectional survey

Publication date: 

23 Mar 2022




Hall CE, Milward J, Spoiala C, Bhogal JK, Weston D, Potts HWW, Caulfield T, Toolan M, Kanga K, El-Sheikha S, Fong K and Greenberg N

Publication type: 



Abstract Background The COVID-19 pandemic generated a surge of critically ill patients greater than the capacity of the UK National Health Service (NHS). There have been multiple well-documented impacts associated with the national COVID-19 pandemic surge on ICU staff, including an increased prevalence of mental health disorders on a scale potentially sufficient to impair high-quality care delivery. We investigated the prevalence of five mental health outcomes; explored demographic and professional predictors of poor mental health outcomes; and describe the prevalence of functional impairment; and explore demographic and professional predictors of functional impairment in ICU staff over the 2020/2021 winter COVID-19 surge in England. Methods English ICU staff were surveyed before, during, and after the winter 2020/2021 surge using a survey which comprised validated measures of mental health. Results A total of 6080 surveys were completed, by ICU nurses (57.5%), doctors (27.9%), and other healthcare staff (14.5%). Reporting probable mental health disorders increased from 51% (before) to 64% (during), and then decreased to 46% (after). Younger, less experienced nursing staff were most likely to report probable mental health disorders. During and after the winter, >50% of participants met threshold criteria for functional impairment. Staff who reported probable post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, or depression were more likely to meet threshold criteria for functional impairment. Conclusions The winter of 2020/2021 was associated with an increase in poor mental health outcomes and functional impairment amongst ICU staff during a period of peak caseload. These effects are likely to impact on patient care outcomes and the longer-term resilience of the healthcare workforce.