Dr Carol Kelly, Reader in Respiratory Care

A new study by Edge Hill University and partners has found that nurses working with respiratory patients on the COVID-19 frontline suffered anxiety and depression during the first wave of the pandemic, and calls for greater support to help build workforce resilience.

The research found that some nurses working with respiratory patients during the pandemic have been struggling to support their families emotionally and financially. 

The study, carried out in partnership with Glasgow Caledonian (GCU) and Southampton universities, predicts that poor mental health may increase over this winter period as increased COVID-19 cases clash with high volumes of winter admissions.  

Dr Carol Kelly, Reader in Respiratory Care at Edge Hill, said: “Nurses have been at the forefront of the UK’s fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and this study has highlighted the significant level of anxiety and depression being experienced across the workforce. 

“As we enter the winter period, it is predicted that poor mental health and lower resilience will increase, as increasing COVID-19 cases clash with the high volumes of seasonal admissions. This emphasises why now, more than ever, we must support NHS to help its workforce identify and cope with these feelings, while also increasing their resilience.” 

Results of the study, led by GCU, showed that just over a fifth of 255 staff surveyed experienced moderate to severe or severe symptoms of anxiety, and around 17 per cent had similar levels for depression.    

It also found that younger nurses with less experience had higher levels of anxiety and depression and lower resilience levels.     

Just over 11 per cent of nurses reported that they had difficulty supporting their households emotionally and financially. Many said they felt “overwhelmed” and “exhausted” juggling work and family life. 

The study showed evidence of a significant level of anxiety and depression in the nursing workforce and called for action to support the mental health and wellbeing of NHS workers during the pandemic.  

Nurses caring for respiratory patients play a crucial role in fighting COVID-19 with their expert skills and knowledge as well as maintaining care for patients with long-term conditions. 

The survey was carried out in May this year during the first wave of the pandemic and researchers concluded that “whilst the NHS has provided psychological support, these programmes need to be reinforced so that staff are able to cope emotionally and work effectively” during a second surge expected to hit hospitals hard this winter. 

 This warrants long term nursing workforce adaptations or interventions to support the mental health and wellbeing of NHS workers during the pandemic. 

When asked about how they were managing to cope with work and home life, most of the respondents said they struggled to give emotional support to their families because of exhaustion. One nurse wrote that her “tank feels empty” and another said “it’s relentless”. 

Several nurses reported difficulties buying groceries at the start of the pandemic and felt the financial impact of partners going on furlough or being made redundant. 

The research, entitled ‘Levels of resilience, anxiety and depression in nurses working in respiratory clinical areas during the COVID pandemic’, has been published in the Respiratory Medicine journal here.