How Covid-19 is Changing the Role of Nursing
Whilst the Covid-19 pandemic has taken the world by surprise, nowhere have the effects been felt more than in the healthcare sector. Hospital and care staff who were already experiencing a shortage of 40,000 qualified nurses saw their workload and list of challenges skyrocket overnight.
Now responsible for over 1million deaths and almost 60million cases worldwide (as of the end of November 2020) the UK saw disproportionate effects: over 55,000 people in Britain have died after testing positive for the coronavirus, and over 1 in 50 British people are officially known to have contracted the disease. More than 1.5 million people received the news that they were either at risk or extremely high risk of becoming seriously ill due to underlying health conditions.
Covid-19 has presented significant difficulties, hardship and testing times for healthcare workers across the world. However, innovative ways of working and creative responses to the crisis could be set to deliver permanent, positive change for patients and health professionals. Here are three ways that the coronavirus pandemic could change the role of nursing.
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How the Jobs of Nurses Will Change After the Coronavirus Pandemic
Greater Involvement with Social Care
The UK’s first national shutdown highlighted the increased challenges of individuals with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), disadvantaged and vulnerable people of all ages and backgrounds. With poverty and socioeconomic disadvantage socioeconomic disadvantage at rapidly increasing levels, the role of all healthcare professionals in the lives of each patient and their families has changed dramatically.
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, nurses have worked closely with social workers and care homes to protect elderly and vulnerable individuals, before, during and after hospital stays. Healthcare staff have been going above and beyond medical care to provide support with accessibility arrangements, personal safety guidance, communication between carers and creating information packs to ensure patients are able to understand and control their own medical care after leaving hospital.
A second national lockdown would require another sustained period of support from education, healthcare and social services. Hospitals, schools and care homes will likely utilise the opportunity to pool resources and build cross-communication to create a holistic end-to-end care path for patients and families. A more unified approach amongst all those working in health and social care is predicted to result from 2021 onwards, for the benefit of all involved.
More Central to Strategic Medical Care & Greater Collaboration
Dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, Patricia Davidson, comments, ‘Often nurses are invisible in the discussion of health care, but the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light the indisputable need for nurses.’ Davidson believes that the pandemic has increased awareness of her staff’s centrality to patient care: ‘Nurses provide the bulk of care and assume the brunt of danger that comes with stemming a worldwide health crisis.’
Going forward, the role of nursing is predicted to involve greater patient advocacy. This advocacy already plays a crucial role in reducing health inequalities; after the pandemic highlighted serious inequalities and factors behind these, healthcare professionals could be provided with additional training to facilitate greater advocacy. Some experts have already recommended training across a range of disabilities, health protection training, extension of CPD programmes to include more disability-specific courses, greater support for bilingual health workers and greater collaboration between community organisations, religious and support groups.
The covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the integral role of healthcare staff not only in supporting ill individuals but in supporting overall medical treatment and prevention strategies. In a crisis such as the coronavirus where all staff are completely new to the situation, the knowledge and experience of those who are normally consigned to a supporting role are even more vital to a fast, informed response. Many in the field predict greater collaboration between hospital staff of all duties and levels and across wards, to ensure holistic approaches are ready for the next crisis situation.
Better Mental Wellbeing Support for Greater Effectiveness
Whilst a recent Lancet study found high levels of fatigue and emotional exhaustion, a Royal College of Nursing Research Society report found that in May 2020, 24% of UK nurses and midwives were suffering severe or extremely severe depression. NHS Digital data reported monthly sickness rates at their highest levels since 2009, psychiatric and mental illnesses behind 1 in 5 of all sick days taken. In addition to increased workload, health professionals have also seen their mental wellbeing worsen due to fear of catching the virus themselves for those in vulnerable groups, lack of resources in some locations and trauma created by witnessing a rapidly increasing death rate by up to seven-fold.
In an already fast-paced and high-pressured career path, stress and anxiety are exacerbated by the physical risks of contracting and transmitting the disease. Due to their dedication, commitment and delivery of excellent standards of services, it may be easy for the general public to forget that healthcare staff are also individuals with their own loved ones and associated responsibilities. Those on the ‘frontlines’ of patient care are in the highest risk category in terms of catching the virus and infecting their elderly or disabled relatives and dependents with pre-existing conditions. Although provisions of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) have significantly improved since the spring of 2020, hospital and care home workers often experience daily anxiety over catching the disease from a patient and unwittingly spreading it asymptomatically to other patients or their own families.
With the second wave of Covid-19 set to increase pressure on NHS and private hospital staff due to the backlog of elective surgeries and missed or delayed diagnoses, the coronavirus will likely drive up both the need for mental health support and the awareness of this need. On 20th October 2020 the NHS announced an overhaul of its mental health support package for staff, including:
- An extra £15million invested in mental health support services
- Rapid assessment and treatment by local mental health experts
- Wellbeing and psychological training rolled out as soon as winter 2020
- Outreach work to proactively connect those most in need, such as critical care workers, with these services.
Many local programmes are already in place and further ramping up their efforts, which include enhanced bereavement and special leave, childcare provision, flexible working and mental wellbeing self-referral schemes. The additional investment and support from NHS England signals the start of an enhanced focus on the wellbeing of healthcare employees in the near and long-term future.
Enhanced support for mental health and wellbeing will empower nursing staff to maintain a proactive approach, enhance involvement in patient care and increase overall effectiveness in their role with reduced burdens from fatigue and stress.
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