GPs predict ‘huge surge’ in patients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to COVID-19

Publication date: 21 June 2020

The Royal College of GPs has reworked its learning materials - initially developed to help GP practices provide targeted support to military veterans returning from war zones and trying to adjust to civilian life – to create specific resources for family doctors helping their patients come to terms with the pandemic and its aftermath.

GPs are adapting the techniques they use to diagnose and care for veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in readiness for a ‘huge surge’ in patients with the condition as a result of COVID-19.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder during and after lockdown includes vlogs, screencasts and a PTSD screening test. One section deals specifically with the unique mental health needs of key workers, particularly health and social care professionals who have been on the frontline of the NHS and other public services during the pandemic.

Previous pandemics including SARS and Swine flu (H1N1) have resulted in an increase in stress symptoms, incidence of PTSD, depression and adjustment disorders within communities.

During the current lockdown, GPs are already anecdotally reporting a rise in the number of patients with anxiety, depression and trauma symptoms, particularly in those who have pre-existing physical and mental health conditions – and they predict that this will escalate rapidly as lockdown restrictions are lifted and patients try to deal with their experiences.

The new e-learning materials have been 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 said: “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.”

Further Information

RCGP Press office – 020 3188 7574/7575

Out of hours: 0203 188 7659

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 53,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.

Notes to editor

The RCGP’s e-learning module Post Traumatic Stress Disorder during and after lockdown looks at:

  • Why PTSD is so topical: an overview of PTSD triggers and the impact of lockdown measures introduced in response to COVID-19.
  • Initial patient response after traumatic events: exploring the range of psychological and mental health issues that patients may experience following a traumatic event, and how they can be addressed.
  • Prevalence of PTSD: highlighting evidence of PTSD in primary care and exploring population groups who may be at a higher risk of PTSD, such as those experiencing domestic abuse.
  • When to suspect PTSD: exploring the screening tool used in military and civilian settings in high risk populations that will aid GPs in coming to a formal diagnosis.
  • Key workers and PTSD: exploring the unique traumatic experiences that healthcare and frontline workers may be processing.
  • How healthcare professionals can look after themselves: exploring the fact that GPs and other healthcare professionals are not immune to stresses and mental health issues.

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