A Kingston community group has delivered over 100 care packages to hospital staff struggling to cope due to pressures caused by the pandemic.
RBKares have distributed the care packages to hospital staff to improve their mental health and wellbeing, as the number of those suffering from severe mental illnesses rises.
Group co-founder, and retired sexual health doctor, Kate Kenyon, 59, explained she was inspired to start the campaign after hearing the harrowing tales her friends and neighbours who work at Kingston and other hospitals shared with her.
She said: “The stories of the NHS front line staff who are receiving the care packages are heart-breaking. They describe their hospitals as ‘a war zone’, like ‘something out of a disaster movie’.
“It’s hell on earth. It’s just carnage.”
Kingston Hospital, like many hospitals across the UK, has been under great strain due to soaring numbers of COVID-19 admissions since November last year.
In mid-January 2021, there were 50% more COVID-19 patients in UK hospitals than there were during the first peak of hospitalisations in April last year.
According to a Sky News report, January saw Kingston Hospital operating at double normal capacity.
This rise in admissions has come as hospitals also battle with staff shortages as a result of the pandemic.
As well as staff self-isolating due to exposure to COVID-19, many staff members have been signed-off work with serious mental health disorders such as PTSD, anxiety, and severe depression.
A recent study published in Occupational Medicine last month revealed that nearly half of intensive care staff reported symptoms of PTSD, severe depression, or anxiety.
More than one in seven intensive care unit (ICU) clinicians and nearly one in five ICU nurses reported thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
Dr Kenyon related the decline in mental health to the incredibly difficult and devastating decisions staff were forced to make on a daily basis.
One staff member she spoke to had to regularly select patients to be admitted into the ICU, turning the rest away due to limited capacity.
This once meant refusing 38 people necessary and life-saving treatment.
Dr Kenyon said: “I don’t see how they can’t be damaged by what’s happening.
“I can tell you the three patients I had which were that traumatic in my whole career and they are dealing with that every day.”
The care packages have been designed to respond to these mental health needs, as well as to show solidarity with the NHS staff.
Each one contains at least one “mindfulness activity”, such as a jigsaw, colouring kit, and sewing set, amongst other treats.
Dr Kenyon explained that these items were chosen as they require concentration and focus the mind.
This focus will stop staff members thinking about all the decisions that they’re making and what they’re seeing at work.
One ICU staff member, who asked to remain anonymous, said that receiving the care package meant a great deal to them.
They added: “ICU staff carry the responsibility for human lives. When resources are stretched…the burden of the consequences falls directly on the clinical staff.
“It really matters to NHS staff to know that local people understand and care both about them as individuals and about the situation.”
Kingston Hospital Charity Communications Manager Rob Aldous expressed his gratitude to RBKares for their support.
He, however, stressed that the best way for people to help hospital staff would be to donate through the charity’s website.
He said: “We need to be mindful that, when we’ve all moved on from COVID-19 and it’s not dominating the headlines, there will be residual mental health problems associated with the pandemic.
“By making a financial donation through our website, you give us the flexibility to utilise those funds for both now and for the future beyond the crisis.”
He also highlighted some of the new mental health initiatives that had been implemented in the hospital, including the hiring of more pastoral support staff.
Kingston Hospital Charity Fundraising Manager Michelle Bartsch, 43, also urged the public to give to the charity’s donation page.
She added, however, people wishing to give gifts-in-kind should only do so through RBKares.
This due to the stringent COVID-19 precaution measures the group follows as well as the charity’s relationship with the group.
To find out more about RBKares and their previous campaigns, such as their Christmas gifts for care home residents project last November, you can visit their Facebook page here.