The nursing profession has been essential in the fight against COVID-19 over the last 18 months with nurses putting their lives at risk to protect and care for their patients. But a new piece of research by Shereen Miller, a Specialist Community Public Health Nurse (Health Visitor) within the GP Care Group asks the question, "How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the health and wellbeing of NHS nurses?"
Tackling this very important topic as part of her Master's, Shereen's research, which is due to be published in a nursing journal, delved deep into the reality of what it means to be a nurse in the NHS and asked the question, who is taking care of our carers?
Learn more about the research in our interview with Shereen Miller.
What does your role (as specialist public health nurse) involve?
Health Visitors are Specialist Community Public Health Nurses. We are all either nurses (from any field of nursing - learning disability, mental health, children or adult) or midwives who have gone on to complete further training at post-graduate level. Our work is underpinned by the Healthy Child Programme (0-5 years).
Primarily, our role is to support parents and carers to ensure that every child has the very best start in life, optimising, steady growth, and supporting development. Through mandated contacts and building relationships with our families, we are working intently to reduce health inequalities and inequities. We are in a privileged position, being on the frontline, where we are constantly able to identify and assess the health needs of the population, put the patient at the centre of care and deliver health promotion, health education, act as an advocate for the child and work across domains (supporting families where there are changes in health systems and health economics, supporting and recognising the impact of maternal mental health, supporting relationship building and much more…)
We work closely with members of the multi-disciplinary team and stakeholders to ensure that the needs of the child and the family are met. No two days or two families are the same!
Why did you choose this issue as the topic of your Master's?
I chose this topic as it is the lived experience of myself and my colleagues in both the community and acute setting (not just health visiting). Protecting the health and wellbeing of nurses is something that I am passionate about, and something that is pertinent to us being able to effectively execute our role. Nurses have a duty to maintain their health and wellbeing as stipulated by the Nurses and Midwifery Council's (our governing body) Code of Conduct. Not being able to maintain our health and wellbeing and act as role models to the public becomes a 'Fitness to Practice Issue'.
However, it is widely accepted that nurses have struggled to maintain their health and wellbeing due to the emotional, physical, and psychological impact of our roles. We are the largest group in the NHS workforce and work tirelessly to meet patient needs and deliver effective care. However, in doing so, most nurses neglect their own health needs. The COVID-19 pandemic has not helped, exacerbating existing or presenting new challenges to nurses' ability to maintain their health and wellbeing.
In a nutshell, what were some of the highlights of your research?
Approximately a third of nurses are planning to leave the profession within the next 12 months, due to the increased demands of the role and the detrimental effect that working through the pandemic at the pace that they have been has had on their health and wellbeing. It is not just the physical, emotional and psychological effects that are alarming, many nurses are in considerable amounts of debt; 90% of nurses are now borrowing money from creditors to pay for basic amenities and/or are borrowing money from friends and family. Nurses are wholly disappointed by their employing organisations who they feel are not supporting them through innovation, effective strategy, and a bottom-up approach to support their health and wellbeing. True burnout is commonplace, with many nurses simply 'functioning', many are making mistakes in their work where they wouldn't normally. Equally, many are concerned about a major incident occurring and them being held accountable and ultimately appearing before the Nursing and Midwifery Council and losing their pin number (and therefore their ability to practice).
What were some of the surprising facts that you discovered?
That up to 40% of nurses skip meals. Many nurses feel undervalued. Indirect trauma is increasingly resulting in post-traumatic stress disorder. Many nurses are experiencing loneliness which in itself has been recognised as a public health emergency. Nurses are the group most likely to commit suicide, female nurses are at higher risk – this group is 25% more likely to commit suicide than the national average. That eight in 10 nurses have a mental health condition/illness.
How will your research be used?
In the last three years, I have delivered presentations/lectures to Specialist Community Public Health Students and Student Nurses at Universities discussing the importance of maintaining their health and wellbeing. Early in the pandemic, I delivered exercise sessions virtually to a group of nurses. Now, I would like to turn my attention to employing organisations and support them to devise strategies that will support the wellbeing of nurses, strengthening the workforce, and subsequently improving patient outcomes.
How has your paper been received so far?
My work has been well received by colleagues who feel that it has given them a voice and an opportunity to share their experiences. Equally, it has been an eye-opener to others on the true lived experience of the NHS nurse and the duty of care that employers have to support the workforce and the role that they play to ensure that the nurse is 'Fit for Practice'.
Where can people read the full research?
I am currently, working on turning my research into an article for publication in a nursing journal. In the meantime, people can contact me if they would like me to deliver a guest lecture/presentation.