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22.06.20

RCGP predicts surge in patients with PTSD post-coronavirus

A number of learning materials initially developed to assist GP practices in providing targeted support to military veterans returning from war zones and adjusting back to civilian life are set to be reworked by the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) after it predicted a significant surge in patients presenting with similar symptoms following the coronavirus pandemic.

The techniques used to diagnose and care for veterans with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are being adapted by RCGP to ensure family doctors have specific resources to help patients come to terms with the pandemic and its aftermath, in readiness for a potential notable increase in patients with the condition as a result of Covid-19.

The new resources include vlogs, screencasts and a PTSD screening test.

One particular section deals specifically with the unique mental health needs of key workers, particularly health and social care professionals who have worked on the frontline of the NHS and other public services during the pandemic.

An increase in stress symptoms, incidences of PTSD, depression and adjustment disorders within communities were all noted during past widespread viral outbreaks, including SARS and Swine flu (H1N1). During the current lockdown period, GPs have already anecdotally reported a rise in the number of patients presenting with anxiety, depression and trauma symptoms – particularly those who have pre-existing physical and mental health conditions.

The new e-learning materials were written by Essex GP and RCGP Medical Director for e-Learning, Dr Dirk Pilat, in partnership with professor Neil Greenberg from the Royal College of Psychiatrists. They are presented by Worcestershire GP and RCGP Joint Honorary Secretary Dr Jonathan Leach OBE, who is himself a veteran and retired Colonel.

Dr Leach said: “So many analogies of war have been used to describe COVID 19 - we talk about the ‘battle’ against the virus and NHS staff are commonly referred to as ‘troops on the frontline’.

“Just as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is increased in armed forces personnel returning from war zones, we expect PTSD to be more common post-Covid as people come to terms with the life-changing experiences they have gone through, either because of their experiences at work or having lost loved ones.

“In addition, whilst lockdown measures were necessary to reduce the spread of the virus, for many people they have unintentionally created heavy psychological, emotional and financial problems. For some of our patients, the ‘stay at home’ guidance has created a toxic environment, leading to an increase in domestic abuse.

“PTSD is commonly seen in primary care and GPs are experienced in caring for patients with mental health issues, including those who may have witnessed or experienced violence.

“Most patients experiencing mild symptoms will benefit from simple interventions, such as a reassuring discussion with their GP, but some patients will need much more than that including specialist referral, which is why the College has adapted its existing resources for GPs caring for veterans.

“We hope that the new e-learning materials – which include well-established techniques used for the diagnosis of PTSD in veterans - will prove invaluable in supporting frontline GPs and their teams to deliver the best possible care for patients who have gone through traumatic experiences during Covid-19 and now have to deal with the fallout.”

RCGP Chair Martin Marshall added: “We are already seeing the huge toll that this pandemic is taking on people’s health, mentally as well as physically, but we also know that a significant number of patients have chosen not to use the NHS during the pandemic, perhaps for fear of getting the virus, or because they don’t want to burden the health service during a time of crisis and emergency.

“This will inevitably create a huge surge in mental health conditions, including cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is crucial that GPs and their teams have as much support as possible to help them pick up the pieces and care for their patients in a post-Covid world, with all it will bring.”

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