ICS wellbeing blog one - 14 July, 2020

This month I started my role of National Project Director for Wellbeing for the Intensive Care Society. It is an interesting time to start an ambitious project. This global pandemic has highlighted the need for supporting staff now more than ever before- stark data from previous pandemics suggest that up to 1 in 3 staff will be left with longer term psychological consequences of working at the front line[1]. However, we know from our research last year, staff in critical care were already experiencing burnout at a prevalence of 1 in 3[2].

What do we really mean by wellbeing- or perhaps being well- at work? There are projects out there for “wobble rooms”, delivering food...these are very lovely, and well-intended. It seems a shame that a staff room with access to good food, and a quiet room to retreat to are not seen as fundamental essentials, that it should not have taken a pandemic to supply. Perhaps this is all we feel we can really do right now? In the face of this pandemic, it is hard to imagine a way through. Supplying resources and rest to our staff helps us to feel useful. However, is it enough?

I have worked as a jobbing psychologist on intensive care for many years now, and I have witnessed what our staff need, and in many ways have lived this alongside them. Critical care staff, indeed any workers, need to feel a sense of certainty and clarity at work; they need to understand their role and the expectations of them; they need to feel supported and understood by their manager and peers; and they need the education and resources to do the job well. This creates a balance of job demands and resources for a positive working experience where we can perform to the best of our abilities. In critical care, at least part of this education is to understand and manage the emotional reactions to clinically challenging work, which includes enabling leaders and peers to do this for a positive team environment. Given the emotional burden in critical care can be high, having fast access to suitably trained and embedded psychological professionals is of great benefit.

Therefore, the primary purpose of my new role with the Intensive Care Society is to embed specialist professional psychological services in as many critical care units in the UK as we can, and to adopt a national framework for improving staff wellbeing in our critical care units through formalised peer support models, leadership support, and team education. And, of course we will continue to develop our educational and guidance materials for you. We have recently written to Networks, our members, and wider stakeholders to invite them to engage with our programme- please do get in touch.

Our aim in the Intensive Care Society is to support you in every way we can to achieve longer term staff wellbeing, for COVID-19, and beyond.

Dr Julie Highfield
ICS National Director of Wellbeing


[1] Allen et al (2020), The prevalence of common and stress-related mental health disorders in healthcare workers based in pandemic-affected hospitals: a rapid systematic review and meta-analysis medRxiv 2020.05.04.20089862; doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.05.04.20089862

[2] Vincent et al (2019) Burnout Syndrome in UK Intensive Care Unit staff: Data from all three Burnout Syndrome domains and across professional groups, genders and ages. Journal of the Intensive Care Society20(4), 363–369. https://doi.org/10.1177/1751143719860391