Many intensive care unit workers have seen their mental health get worse throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, latest figures show.

Researchers based at Imperial College London examined the mental health of more than 500 intensive care unit (ICU) workers by analysing individual surveys combined with a clinical scoring procedure.

The participants were from a range of different countries, including the UK, China, Italy and France.

According to the findings, nearly 50% of the group presented symptoms of mental health disorders, such as depression, insomnia and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Additionally, the results reveal that conditions are 40% higher in those who wear personal protective equipment (PPE) for longer than six hours.

The team of academics believe that the mental wellbeing of healthcare professionals working in ICUs should be included in national and local wellbeing policies.

Chief author Dr Ahmed Ezzat said: “This is a timely study which acts as a stark reminder of the personal challenges healthcare staff are facing as a result of COVID-19.

“As within wider society, mental illness of healthcare staff still remains a taboo subject for some. Recent public campaigns have started the conversation, but we have a long way to go.

“COVID-19 has acutely exacerbated the issue, and our concern is how staff resilience has been exhausted and what national medium- or long-term resources are set in place by policy makers to safeguard this workforce from severe mental illness.”

Co-author Dr Matthieu Komorowski said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the physical and mental health of healthcare workers around the world.

“The large number of patients admitted to hospital at the height of the pandemic has put considerable demand and pressure on ICUs and staff.

“Although there has been much reporting on the mental health of frontline workers there has been little done to assess the impact of the pandemic on those who were treating the sickest patients in ICU.”

He added: “This study shows the impact of working in ICU on staff’s mental health.

“Factors such as individual isolation, loss of social support during lockdown, combined with a change in work pattern may have exacerbated these conditions.”

“Work related stress is well documented in healthcare workers and this has been worsened by the COVID-19 crisis.”

The peak of the pandemic recorded huge numbers of people receiving care in ICUs, with many staff obliged to work in new roles for the first time.

More than half of the participants admitted to feeling anxious about catching the virus, with a further 21% worrying that they would die.

The full set of results can now be accessed in the British Journal of Nursing.

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