Emotional impact of pandemic could lead to exodus of NHS staff

New research has discovered that there is a high risk that the emotional and psychological impact of the pandemic on nurses and other healthcare professionals will lead to an exodus of staff.

The study by experts from The University of Manchester suggests that supporting staff recovery from the physical and psychological impacts of working on the frontline should be prioritised, and account should be taken of the potential long-term consequences on staff mental health for years to come.

The doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers who spoke to the researchers talked about the NHS having historical working cultures of goodwill and ‘giving extra’ without remuneration.

During the pandemic, healthcare workers have been torn between providing the best care they can in horrendous circumstances whilst also trying to look after their own physical and emotional health. This means that:

  • Staff have experienced significant ‘moral injury’ from not being able to deliver the standards of care they are used to;
  • Staff report burnout and exhaustion;
  • Staff burnout and exhaustion is exacerbated by pressure to deliver backlogs in services;
  • Staff are experiencing abuse from the public who are dissatisfied; and
  • Staff feel undervalued and appreciated.

The researchers say that failure to address issues of staff wellbeing and retention in the context of continuing workforce shortages and staff leaving will limit the NHS’ ability to recover from the pandemic, improve on health outcomes, and prepare for future crises.

Supporting staff recovery from the physical and psychological impacts of working on the frontline should be prioritised. A critical element of this will be to establish a transparent public dialogue about what are realistic expectations of care during this recovery period, so staff can feel confident in their delivery of care and to create opportunities for all staff to process their experiences of COVID-19 individually and collectively.
Professor Stephanie Snow

This is part of ‘Pandemic and Beyond’, a project to coordinate and communicate Arts and Humanities research exploring the wide-ranging impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.