Supporting the mental health of nurses during the pandemic

October 10, 2020

This blog first appeared in Nursing Times on 10th October 2020. Written by Suzanne Wightman, Admiral Nurse Professional and Practice Development Facilitator at Dementia UK

Mental health and wellbeing of nurses

For a number of years now, the mental health and wellbeing of nurses has been an area of significant concern. Historically it was not uncommon for nurses to work up to and even beyond full retirement age reflecting satisfaction in their work. However, in more recent times, workload and stress levels have been identified as triggers for increasing sickness and absence as well impacting negatively on recruitment and retention.

Coronavirus has now exacerbated these issues; there is a recognised and extreme fatigue amongst nurses who have been at the heart of the response to the crisis. Even those with energy and commitment during the early phases are re-evaluating circumstances, both personal and professional.

Suzanne Wightman, Admiral Nurse professional and Practice Development Facilitator

Dementia care nurses

Given that we now know that Covid-19 disproportionately affects people living with dementia, we can clearly acknowledge the pressure within dementia care nursing in particular. The long-term impact of this pandemic has resulted in dementia care nurses working with many families who have lost a relative to coronavirus and have, in some instances, been unable to be by a loved one’s side in their final moments due to social distancing.

Additionally, the use of PPE in care settings and face coverings in personal life is a well-documented barrier to providing care, but especially challenging for those with difficulties with communication and comprehension.

There have been many instances where extended periods of social isolation and closure of support networks have resulted in a decline in the health of the person with dementia. This has often had a subsequent detrimental impact on family carers experiencing increased anxiety, stress and burden. The result has been a more demanding workload and emotional burden for the nurses as the pandemic continues, impacting heavily on nurse mental health and wellbeing.

Dementia UK support

Dementia UK promptly identified these issues and proactively responded by supporting the emotional and practice-related needs of the Admiral Nurses, introducing more regular 1:1 and peer group meetings in a virtual space across multiple care settings.

The need for the Admiral Nurses to have relevant information and education relating to the pandemic was clear, and therefore, several webinars with leading experts covering topics such as caring from a distance, domestic abuse and grief, loss and bereavement were arranged.

These learning opportunities in conjunction with support of peers and Dementia UK staff have been highly valued. Collaboration, inclusion and participation are practice development principles used routinely within the charity – these have become particularly relevant throughout the pandemic, enabling high standards and compassionate care to be maintained.

My Professional, Practice Development Facilitators remain committed, constant and responsive at all times through the pandemic with opportunity of one to one or group sessions conducted in a timely, supportive and accessible manner. This has helped me to continue to deliver high quality care in my Lead Admiral Nurse role. Knowing that support is available for me from Dementia UK has been particularly important with the ever changing political, health and societal landscape through Covid-19.

– Joe Costello, Admiral Nurse

Admiral Nursing

Whilst there is a well-known challenge regarding turnover generally in the nursing profession this is less evident in the field of Admiral Nursing. In fact, we are now experiencing increasing numbers of applicants when recruiting to new posts along with a growing curiosity about the specialist role.

Factors influencing the mental health and wellbeing of nurses and the provision of high-quality care are frequently reported by nurses themselves and include; feeling valued, working as part of a team, and being supported effectively. The critical nature of this pandemic has crystallised the need for these, in addition to a rapid and widespread upskilling of nurses in urgent care situations.

Person-centred practice development

The pressure of work and emotional burden that we have seen within Admiral Nursing and dementia care nursing more widely needs to be acknowledged. For Admiral Nurses in particular the person-centred practice development support has made a positive difference. Working together, feeling heard, supported and genuinely valued are essential and fundamental behaviours that all care organisations could adopt.

It is particularly poignant that the year which this pandemic struck is also the Year of the Nurse. The nursing profession has been central and hugely influential in the care of the population. This is a prime opportunity for government and decision makers to recognise the achievements, value and wellbeing of the profession and support its vital work in meeting the needs of current and future populations.

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