Nurses facing burnout, psychological and emotional distress post-COVID, study finds

A cross-country survey of nurses and midwives in the UK has found deep repercussions due to the COVID-19 pandemic: many nurses and midwives report feeling unaccustomed to redeployment, which involved caring for high numbers of critically ill patients and witnessing a high number of patient deaths. Researchers at the University of Surrey, who conducted the survey, have called for a national COVID-19 nursing workforce recovery strategy to tackle the issue and help restore nurses’ psychological well-being.

Despite the distress and trauma faced by frontline nursing staff, it was revealed that the stigma that arose prevented them from accessing counseling services during the first wave of the pandemic. Some participants referred to the notion that nurses seeking counseling would be viewed as a “sign of weakness.”

Those who did seek out counseling often did so through anonymous sources such as charities or Trade Unions suggesting a lack of trust in the confidentiality of resources offered by employers.

The survey also identified a lack of trust between existing and redeployed nurses – many were forced to carry out tasks that they felt insufficiently trained to do, and were justly concerned that their professional registration may be endangered.

“Nurses and midwives put their own health and psychological well-being on the line for the public during the pandemic and many unfortunately lost their lives; others experienced burnout, high levels of moral distress and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder),” said Dr. Jill Maben, Professor of Health Services Research and Nursing at the University of Surrey.

To prevent a mass exodus of the nursing and midwifery workforce, Dr. Maben suggests a new national strategy to acknowledge and address their harrowing experience.

Some of the nurses and midwives interviewed for the study – part of the ongoing Impact of COVID on Nurses (ICON) longitudinal interview study – suggested the researchers provided some therapeutic space and comfort just by listening to their grievances.

“We have a duty as a society to take care of frontline staff who experienced such extreme psychological and emotional distress during this pandemic. The support currently offered is a good start in improving well-being, however, more needs to be done at organisational levels (not just letting the responsibility rest with the individual nurse or midwife) as a one-size-fits all approach does not work.”