Impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the mental health of NHS healthcare workers 

There was and remains an urgent need to understand the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the mental health of NHS healthcare workers. The COVIDA Study, run by Dr James Gilleen and a team of consultant psychiatrists, psychologists and data scientists across various NHS trusts and research institutes, is a longitudinal project investigating this impact and has recently published the largest UK study examining these effects to date.  

The study surveyed nearly 3000 NHS healthcare workers around the peak of the first wave and found a quadrupling of the number of staff with high levels of anxiety, depression and PTSD compared to pre Covid. One in three had severe levels of anxiety and depression; and 1 in 7 had high PTSD symptoms – these were highest for ‘frontline’ staff. The most severe levels of these symptoms was statistically linked to increased perception of being at risk, insufficient access to or pressure to reuse PPE, insufficient workplace preparation, training and communication, and higher workload. Ability to share stress at work nearly halved the risk of having high mental health symptoms. For other key findings the paper, which was published in British Journal of Psychiatry (open), can be read here. 

This research allows us to recognise the scale of the burden on healthcare workers, raise public awareness, as well as provide a foundation to develop new strategic approaches to reduce their psychological burden. Recommendations from this work included ensuring that staff feel less at risk or in danger, have access to the required level of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and be less over-worked, with better staffing and more rest time. 

The COVIDA findings have been included as evidence in:

  1. A UK Government Commons Select Committee on the Impact of Covid
  2. A Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology Report on Mental health impacts of COVID-19 on NHS staff report – to which Dr James Gilleen served as scientific advisor
  3. The British Academy / Government Office for Science report on Covid-19 and Society
  4. The ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health / KCL independent review on Long term societal implications of Covid-19

Additionally, these findings have been reported widely in international newspapers and magazines (as listed on PURE).

Going forward, the COVIDA study will continue to help to build a picture of the mental wellbeing of NHS healthcare workers as the pandemic evolves. Data from the second wave are currently being analysed. 

This research is part funded by a Research England Strategic Priorities Fund award to Dr James Gilleen.