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NHS staff provide emotional support to care home workers during COVID-19

The Carleton Clinic, the Trust’s main base in north Cumbria.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, staff working in care homes have dealt with increasing amounts of worry, stress, and anxiety. Teams at Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW) older peoples’ mental health services have worked closely with care homes in north Cumbria, finding new ways to help their colleagues offload their worries and feel supported.

The Care Home Education Support Service (or CHESS) was developed in 2005 and is part of the North Cumbria Older Adults Community Mental Health Team at CNTW. Their original aim was to reduce the number of people from care homes admitted to hospital for avoidable reasons. They do this by working closely with care home staff to improve their understanding of, and ability to support, people with dementia or mental health needs.

Since 2005, the CHESS team’s rolling education programme for care home staff, plus a dedicated outreach team, has won them numerous national and international awards.

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to take its toll on care homes earlier this year, the CHESS team recognised that the care home staff they worked closely with needed some extra emotional support. CHESS quickly set up ‘sharing sessions’ for any care home who wanted them; a place for staff to safely offload their feelings.

David Storm, Associate Director for Access and Community in north Cumbria at CNTW, explained: “This pandemic has had a huge impact on care homes in our area. There was an urgent need for our CHESS team to be proactive in supporting not only care home residents, but also their staff.

“These teams have been dealing with multiple bereavements while trying to manage the impact of the pandemic, particularly the effect restrictions have had on many residents’ behaviour. We’re proud to say that in these difficult times, we have worked closely as a community with organisations in health, social care and the third sector to support vulnerable people.”

The ‘sharing sessions’ have been well-received. They are confidential, providing staff with a safe place to share how they are feeling and talk through some of their anxieties.  Each session is facilitated by a member of the CHESS team who has an established relationship with that care home.

The sharing sessions are open to all the care home’s staff, who are contacted by their allocated CHESS staff member to arrange a meeting time that best suits their team. The sessions usually last about an hour. For some, this is a regular slot, such as every Tuesday morning, while others opt for more ad hoc sessions as and when they are needed.  The sharing sessions can be done as a group of staff, or with an individual who wants to share one-to-one.

Most of the sessions so far have been carried our virtually using teleconferencing software, but where the care home’s environment allows for social distancing sessions can be carried out in a small group.

One staff member from a care home in Carlisle said, “my colleague and I have found [the sharing sessions] really helpful for us. I think so many people could benefit from this, it has made a big difference.”

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