Background The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a significant burden on the mental health and wellbeing of frontline health and social care workers. The need to support frontline staff has been recognised. However, there is to date little research specifically on how best to support the mental health needs of frontline workers, and none on their own experiences and views about what might be most helpful. Aims We set out to redress this research gap by qualitatively exploring UK frontline health and social care workers' own experiences and views of psychosocial support during the pandemic. Method Frontline health and social care workers were recruited purposively through social media and by snowball sampling via healthcare colleagues. Workers who volunteered to take part in the study were interviewed remotely following a semi-structured interview guide. Transcripts of the interviews were analysed by the research team following the principles of Reflexive Thematic Analysis. Results We conducted 25 interviews with frontline workers from a variety of professional groups working in health and social care settings across the UK. Themes derived from our analysis showed that workers' experiences and views about psychosocial support were complex. Peer support was many workers' first line of support but could also be experienced as a burden. Workers were ambivalent about support shown by organisations, media and the public. Whilst workers valued psychological support services, there were many disparities in provision and barriers to access. Conclusions The results of this study show that frontline health and social care workers are likely to need a flexible system of support including peer, organisational and professional support. More research is needed to fully unpack the structural, systemic and individual barriers to accessing psychosocial support. Greater collaboration, consultation and co-production of support services and their evaluation is warranted.
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© 2021 Billings et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
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