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Covid19: Healthcare workers on the frontline under stress, survey shows

Covid19: Healthcare workers under stress
Written by Nelisiwe Msomi

Survey shows 60% of nurses fear passing Covid-19 to loved ones, three quarters of healthcare providers say occupation places them at higher risk.

About 60% of nurses are concerned about passing Covid-19 to family members, while hundreds of nurses experienced severe psychological distress, according to a new survey by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC).

Researchers surveyed 7607 healthcare workers in all nine provinces to understand how Covid-19 has impacted on their working environments, mental health and their perception of risk. The survey also assessed frontline workers’ knowledge of the virus and the proper usage of personal protective equipment (PPE). The HSRC conducted the survey in the early phase of the virus in South Africa, from 11 April to 7 May 2020.

Perception of risk

Despite reporting the highest number of Covid 19 infections, healthcare workers in Gauteng and the Western Cape had the lowest risk perception, while the North West and Free State had the highest. Risk perception is a subjective judgement of health workers’ belief about potential harm.

Nationally, about three-quarters of healthcare providers felt that their occupation placed them at higher risk. While a third of nurses and doctors felt that their place of employment put them at greater risk of contracting the coronavirus.

A quarter of health professionals also felt that their underlying health conditions put them at risk of contracting Covid-19

Two thirds of healthcare workers surveyed say the public’s failure to follow protocols puts frontline workers at risk. Those surveyed felt that the general population are not following the transmission guidelines such as social distancing and washing of hands.

The need for PPE highlighted

The research revealed that over 50% of healthcare workers felt they did not have adequate PPE, putting them at risk. More than two-thirds reported the need for all forms of PPE.

The survey also showed incorrect knowledge of the use of PPE in some clinical situations. For instance, the N95 mask was used in cases where a surgical mask would suffice. An overwhelming 80% of health professionals expressed the need for environmental controls, eye shields or goggles and gloves.

Only half of the professional surveyed were confident in their ability to correctly use of PPE. Some attributed their lack of confidence to the availability and accessibility of PPE. The self-perceived risk in contracting the virus was high when there was low confidence in the correct use of PPE.

Concerns for Health and Wellbeing

The HSRC study found that almost half of nurses surveyed were extremely concerned about family members and personal health. At least 60% of nurses were concerned about passing the infection to family members, while one in five health workers had extreme concern for their personal wellbeing.

Almost 2000 nurses reported having experienced severe psychological distress. Those working in the public sector recorded higher psychological distress than those working in the private sector.

Nurses reported the lowest general health and well-being compared to doctors and other healthcare professionals.

The survey revealed that health professionals who reported high psychological distress reported low levels of general health and wellbeing. Conversely, health professionals who reported high general wellbeing also reported low levels of psychological distress.

A second wave of the survey will be conducted with the new developments of the virus in the country says the council. – Health-e News

About the author

Nelisiwe Msomi