Covid in Scotland: NHS staff are suffering in a crisis that requires action from government and the public – Scotsman comment

Covid has put the NHS under sustained pressure for nearly two years and it is increasingly clear this has been pushing many staff to breaking point.

For months, the representatives of doctors and nurses have been warning of burnout and growing mental health problems.

Now new figures, obtained by the Scottish Liberal Democrats, give an indication of just how many are struggling.

In 2020/21, nearly 150,000 days of nursing and midwifery staff time were lost due to mental ill health. To put that in context, NHS Scotland employs just over 64,000 nurses and midwives.

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On average, this would mean each one was off for mental health reasons for nearly two-and-a-half days over the year.

But the reality is that some staff will have been absent for prolonged periods, while others sought to cope with the workload, increasing their own stress levels.

It is a situation made considerably worse by the number of unfilled jobs. As of September, there were 5,761 whole-time equivalent nurse and midwife vacancies, about eight per cent of NHS Scotland’s total nursing and midwifery workforce and up by nearly 1,000 from June.

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Almost 150,000 days of nursing and midwifery staff time lost to mental ill healt...

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NHS staff have been on the frontline of the Covid pandemic for nearly two years (Picture: Peter Byrne/PA)

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said these health service staff had been going “above and beyond the call of duty, putting their own lives at extra risk to care for others” and added they were “not just numbers, they are people who are struggling.”

So if anyone suggests the NHS is not in a crisis, they should listen to what those on the frontline are saying and look at the figures that support their accounts.

The Scottish government was right to point to the “record NHS staffing levels” and express their deep gratitude for the delivery of an “exemplary standard of care”.

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But ministers need to recognise there is a real problem and find practical and effective ways to improve working conditions as quickly as possible.

And the rest of us should take a look at ourselves and ask whether our actions are helping or making the situation worse.

The most important thing to do right now is get a booster vaccine. But next time you decide not to wear a mask, when you really should, think about the NHS staff who have been wearing them for ten hours a day, week in, week out, for nearly two years.

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