UK Nursing Staff Likely Suffered PTSD in First COVID-19 Wave

Pavankumar Kamat

December 20, 2021

New research published in the  International Journal of Nursing Studies  indicates that the nursing and midwifery staff in the UK experienced significant psychological distress during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The proportion of workforce with probable post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is particularly worrisome.

These findings come from the ICON study conceptualised by the Royal College of Nursing Research Society and conducted by the University of Warwick and King's College London in collaboration with other UK universities.

Project lead, Dr Keith Couper from the University of Warwick said: "We know that even prior to the pandemic, the UK nursing and midwifery workforce was under significant strain due to high levels of attrition and ongoing recruitment challenges. Our study clearly highlights that staff experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic has had significantly exacerbated this strain."

The ICON study was an online survey conducted at 3 separate time-points during the first wave in the UK between April and August 2020. The respondents included registered and unregistered nurses and midwives, nursing associates, nursing students and trainee associates, and nursing support staff in the UK. The primary outcome was probable PTSD, indicated by at least 33 points on the Impact of Events Scale-Revised score.

The proportion of the nursing staff with probable PTSD across the 3 time-points was 44.6%, 37.1%, and 29.3%, respectively. Nearly 17.5% respondents reported severe or extreme stress 3 months following the first peak of infections. The prevalence of some psychological issues declined after the first peak, but many individuals experienced persistent distress during the recovery phase of the pandemic.

Risk Factors for PTSD

Personal as well as workplace factors were linked to probable PTSD at any time-point; however, certain associations are likely to have altered over the course of the pandemic. 'Personal caring responsibility' and 'younger age' were crucial individual-level risk factor for PTSD, whereas the key workplace risk factors for PTSD included 'redeployment to other clinical departments with inadequate/no training' and 'a lack of confidence in infection prevention and control training'. Overall, 22.6% of respondents reported that they were not always provided appropriate personal protective equipment.

Co-author, Prof Ruth Harris from the King’s College London added: "Our findings should drive healthcare employers throughout the world to address shortcomings in their organisational response to COVID-19, and future health emergencies, to both prevent psychological issues developing and ensure that those affected receive timely high-quality evidence-based support during the pandemic and as needed thereafter."

The research received funding support from The Burdett Trust for Nursing.


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