Banning family from Covid ICU during lockdown ‘left relatives with PTSD’

Relatives of intensive care Covid patients were left traumatised by being banned from visiting their seriously ill loved ones during the pandemic, a study has found. 

Researchers found two-thirds of family members of patients in intensive care were still suffering high levels of symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) three months after their relative was admitted. 

Symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, nightmares and physical sensations such as pain, sweating, feeling sick or trembling. 

Before the Covid pandemic, symptoms of PTSD in family members of intensive care patients were between 15 and 30 per cent, depending on the condition. 

The team from the University of Colorado School of Medicine said visitation restrictions may have inadvertently generated a secondary public health crisis of stress-related disorders in family members of Covid patients. 

At the height of the pandemic, hospitals across Britain restricted access to patients, with many people forced to say goodbye to dying loved ones over Skype, or behind screens or windows. 

Even as late as last winter, a Telegraph investigation showed that a quarter of trusts were still imposing restrictions on visitors. 

Secondary public health crisis

The team surveyed 316 relatives who had family members in intensive care at hospitals in Colorado, Washington, Louisiana, New York, and Massachusetts. They found that by three weeks after admission, 201 (63.6 per cent) scored 10 or higher on PTSD tests, indicating significant symptoms of trauma.

Researchers warned that the pandemic had stopped relatives from being able to build bedside relationships with clinicians, which had led to a loss of trust in the profession. 

Writing in the journal Jama Internal Medicine, the team concluded: “Having a family member with Covid-19 in ICU was associated with a high prevalence of symptoms of PTSD.

“The implications of these findings suggest that visitation restrictions may inadvertently generate a secondary public health crisis through an epidemic of stress-related disorders among family members of ICU patients.”

The findings suggest that the rates of PTSD may be higher in relatives than in patients. A previous study by Imperial College and the University of Southampton found that only one-third of patients on ventilators suffer symptoms. 

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