Nearly one-third (32%) of the 590,000 staff who responded to the NHS staff survey had worked on a ward or other setting that cared for Covid-19 patients at one point during the pandemic.
The most recent staff survey was conducted in September 2020, at a time of fewer Covid-19 cases in the UK. Despite this, there were still troubling responses recorded.
One area of concern was staff wellbeing, where the levels of stress and lack of support were particularly felt by those working in Covid-19 settings. Half (50%) of all staff working with Covid-19 patients experienced illness as a result of work-related stress, compared to 41% of those not working in Covid-19 settings. Not only this, but fewer staff working in Covid-19 environments felt that their NHS organisation took positive action on health and wellbeing (29%, compared with 36% of staff working elsewhere).
Workload also appears to be a particular issue. While there was no difference between groups in the proportion of staff who worked additional unpaid hours, a higher proportion of staff working in Covid-19 settings said they were working additional paid hours (49% versus 25%). More concerningly, a higher proportion of staff working in Covid-19 settings were going into work despite not feeling well enough to do so. Nearly a quarter (24%) of these staff felt pressured by fellow colleagues to attend work, compared to a fifth of staff not working in Covid-19 settings.
A lot remains unknown. The published data cannot show differences in staff groups between those working in Covid-19 settings and staff working elsewhere, so comparisons must be treated with some caution. However, recent findings show the damage of working in a Covid-19 environment on the mental health of staff, with 49% of nurses surveyed having probable post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Regardless of whether or not they worked in a Covid-19 setting, health care workers have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic attending to the health needs of others, and at great personal risk. They deserve sufficient time off and the offer of support that many of them may need.