Nurses open up as study reveals impact of Covid crisis on health workers
- Credit: Barts Charity
Newham nurses have shared their struggles as a new study reveals the mental, physical and emotional impact of the pandemic on healthcare workers.
The study, funded by Barts Charity, lays bare the harsh toll of the Covid crisis on health workers' wellbeing, which worsened the longer the pandemic went on.
Early findings reveal how depression, sleep problems and personal relationship issues all increased over the course of the pandemic, with more than a quarter of healthcare workers seeking help for their mental health and about 40pc experiencing burnout.
Newham University Hospital matron for specialist medicine Petra Francis said: “It was a very emotional time for me as I saw a lot of families affected by the virus and lot of loved ones die.
“I stopped watching the news and stopped talking about work at home in order to get time out.
“I was always tired and worried about my loved ones and me.”
In September last year, half of healthcare workers reported feeling depressed or hopeless, increasing to nearly six in 10 by January.
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The number who said they had difficulty falling and staying sleep increased from 64pc to 71pc, while reports that work was affecting their personal relationships jumped from about one third to almost half.
“I am very thankful for the team that worked with me, we all supported each other to get through the tough times,” Petra said.
“We cried together a lot as a team and it made us stronger for those who needed us.”
The study found that anxiety levels shot up dramatically during the first wave, with 84pc worrying that they would pass Covid on to their relatives.
One fifth of healthcare workers made new living arrangements to protect clinically vulnerable family members.
Blessy Kurien, a nurse for more than 16 years, was redeployed to manage an acute Covid ward at Newham Hospital last year.
She said: “During the pandemic I’ve encouraged staff to share their feelings and thoughts with me.
“There are staff who have experienced loss within their family, and who have needed someone to talk to and vent out their feelings.
“They have felt lonely, low in energy, and have lost confidence when situations have been unmanageable.
“I have tried to be helpful and available, to keep my staff emotionally, mentally and physically strong so that they can provide better care and support to patients and their families.”
As time went on, the survey found more people said the amount of physical activity they were doing had decreased and that they had put on weight.
Two thirds of healthcare workers said they had trouble relaxing throughout the pandemic and half said they found it impossible to stop worrying.
Blessy added: "The pandemic may be easing but it has taught us how to work with a smile even when times are exceptionally difficult.
"We try to support each other with debriefing sessions after stressful shifts, and have also been offered additional wellbeing and psychological support, which has really helped some of my colleagues to cope.
"I thank God and everyone who has encouraged us throughout the pandemic with their kind words and prayers."
More than 1,000 people took part in the study, most of whom were doctors and nurses working in London.
The study was led by Dr Ajay Gupta, a cardiovascular consultant at St Bartholomew's Hospital and senior clinical lecturer at Queen Mary University of London.
He said: “It is clear that the pandemic has taken a big toll on the healthcare workforce – perhaps even bigger than we initially suspected.
“Levels of depression and anxiety have been high, and many colleagues are experiencing frequent feelings of burnout.
“Three months into the pandemic we could already see the impact the stress was starting to have on staff, and, sadly, this only got worse with time.
“However, our study clearly, for the first time, points out specific areas to act on to help improve this situation.
“It also provides for understanding about various interventions that may be useful to reduce this extreme burden posed by the pandemic.”
The full findings will be published at a later date.