The NHS has launched a mental health hotline to offer support to health workers after experts warned doctors and nurses on the frontline of the UK’s coronavirus epidemic could develop post-traumatic stress disorder.

Hundreds of thousands of workers who may need help will be able to call or text a free number staffed by more than 1,500 trained volunteers.

The volunteers, from organisations such as Hospice UK, the Samaritans and Shout, will listen to NHS staff and give psychological support to those in need, as well as offering advice.

Staff may also be signposted to further support, such as financial assistance or specialist bereavement and psychological services, if necessary.

The hotline comes after health leaders warned that the strain on the mental and physical health of NHS staff during the Covid-19 crisis was already unprecedented, even though the epidemic has not yet reached its expected peak.

Dr Alison Pittard, dean of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, told The Independent some patients and staff would suffer “forms of PTSD” due to the intense workload brought on by the pandemic.

She warned intensive care units were facing a huge surge in demand and staff were “already struggling physically and mentally”.

The NHS phone line will be open between 7am and 11pm every day, with a text service which will run 24/7.

The phone number is 0300 131 7000, or staff can text “FRONTLINE” to 85258.

“We need to do everything we can to support our incredible NHS workers as they care for people through this global health emergency,” Prerana Issar, chief people officer for the NHS, said.

“That’s why we have developed a range of support for all NHS staff, from one to one mental health support to a sympathetic voice to confide in.”