Health in healthcare: protecting wellbeing in a pandemic

Lydia Watson

There is no area of life left untouched by the coronavirus pandemic. Jobs lost, lives lost – with one sector more in demand than ever: healthcare.

In an already stretched industry, the influx of Covid-19 cases, combined with the complexities of avoiding cross-contamination with other patients, has put even more pressure on the people protecting our health. Which leads us to this question: who heals the healer?

The significant impact of Covid-19 on healthcare services

Let’s set the scene, and look at the scale of disruption caused by Covid-19. With low numbers of staff and beds to start off with, it fell to the government to keep infection rates low while enabling the NHS to increase their capacity. But as the British Medical Association identified, the general capacity for medical care was already lower than our European counterparts – and worsened by the pandemic.

With the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Advisor predicting a worst-case scenario of 81,000 Covid-19-related deaths and 27,000 excess deaths by March 2021, the strain on healthcare professionals is clear to see. Add to that the “hidden impact” of Covid-19 – with significant reductions in cancer referrals, treatment and elective admissions – and the pressure on staff only intensifies.

The pre-existing wellbeing crisis for healthcare professionals

With our lives often literally in their hands, it’s perhaps unsurprising that healthcare professionals experience some level of stress – but the figures are alarming. Pre-pandemic, research saw a 5-year high in the stress levels of NHS staff – with two thirds feeling that staffing numbers were insufficient. In the social care sector too, wellbeing was an area of concern – with 1 in 3 leaving their jobs yearly. High stress, high turnover, high pressure: these were already hallmarks of a career in the health and social sector, and the pandemic has done nothing to help.

Health and wellbeing in healthcare, since Covid-19

Unsurprisingly, the general wellbeing of healthcare professionals has only worsened. 40% of doctors recently surveyed were said to be experiencing depression, anxiety, and burnout – with 25% attributing that directly to the impact of Covid-19. Similarly, 60% of UK healthcare workers are showing clinical signs of depression, anxiety or PTSD.

There’s a long list of factors. 56% only feel partially protected by PPE, and many worry about the long-term impact of the pandemic – 50% concerned about its impact on clinical demand, and 25% on its impact on their own working lives. There are also fears about transmitting the virus, a lack of access to wellbeing support, and a feeling of being undervalued. It’s important to be aware of the different influences here. Identifying the problem is one thing, and finding the cause is another – but deciding next steps involves understanding both, and knowing why it is you need to act.

Why the wellbeing of healthcare professionals is so important

Wellbeing, engagement, performance. The three are intrinsically linked: significant amounts of research has shown that employee engagement and wellbeing are “mutually reinforcing”, and both crucial for encouraging better performance. Promoting all three at the same time means better outcomes for patients:

And as a result, that means better financial performance for hospitals and medical centres due to reduced absenteeism and lower turnover. It’s clear from this that looking after the wellbeing of healthcare professionals should be a priority.

Our research: diagnosing the problem, and identifying next steps

Using our advanced language technology and survey platform, we’ve researched the healthcare sector – identifying common concerns professionals have, and areas for growth. These span from general wellbeing, to specific issues around working from home, and manager-employee relationships.

We also identified some guilt about working on the Covid-19 ward – correlating to fears about spreading the virus noted earlier – and other concerns around the reduced amount of training available this year, difficulty communicating and collaborating effectively, and the general pressure to perform.

We’ve identified four areas where health professionals may need more support:

  1. Communication

  2. Tools and equipment

  3. Training

  4. Management

With the need for better communication being spoken about the most, this gives a clear action for managers and leaders to take – especially in an era of rapidly changing restrictions, and the fast-tracked rollout of vaccinations to certain groups.

It also allows room for more investigation: for example, ‘tools and equipment’ could cover anything from PPE to reliable home WiFi, and ‘management’ could lead to actions around better communication or supporting the wellbeing of employees. The key is identifying the most important areas to focus. And with the sector short of time, budget, and personnel, that’s crucial.

How our technology could help put the ‘health’ back in healthcare

It’s important we acknowledge the contributions and sacrifices of healthcare professionals, ideally in a way that goes beyond public displays of appreciation like clap for our carers. At Qlearsite, we believe our technology can help healthcare workers by giving them a voice – analysing their thousands of comments to understand what can be done by their managers, leaders, and government to look after their wellbeing.

A faster, simpler way to measure wellbeing

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