New research by Edge Hill University and partners has found gaps in mental health support for frontline nurses and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The study was led by Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) health services researcher Dr Nicola Roberts, who is the Principal Investigator in the paper entitled ‘Experiences of nurses caring for respiratory patients during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic: an online survey study’

Dr Roberts worked with colleagues at Edge Hill and Southampton University exploring the experiences of nurses caring for respiratory patients during the first wave of the pandemic in early 2020. The paper was published in the BMJ Open Respiratory Journal. 

Dr Roberts said: “A very high number of participants highlighted their worries and concerns about the impact on their household. These included potentially bringing the virus home, the effect on family members worrying about them, mental health and the impact of changing working patterns, and managing with children. It was evident that respondents were very concerned about the impact of COVID-19.” 

The research team analysed responses from over 255 nurses throughout the UK who highlighted concerns over their working environment, the supply and availability of adequate PPE, the quality-of-care individuals were able to deliver and impacts on mental health to nurses and their families.   

Dr Carol Kelly, a nurse, Reader in Respiratory Care, and Head of Applied Health & Social Care at Edge Hill University, said: “This is an important study which highlights a need and a gap in current mental health support for frontline nurses as identified during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Our findings show that in addition to concerns for their own welfare, in particular mental health, nurses working in frontline respiratory clinical areas also had significant concerns about the impact of their working environment on their families. This included infecting family members with the virus, and the impact on everyday life such as organising childcare and the need to support home schooling. Most respondents reported changing usual behaviour to accommodate working in infectious areas.” 

Initial findings from the survey published last year found that 21% experienced moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety and depression during the first wave of the pandemic.  This study highlights the gaps in mental health support for frontline respiratory nurses and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic.   

Dr Kelly was recently honoured with a national award for the exceptional contribution she has made to the nursing community throughout her career.

She added: “There were reports of peer support mechanisms, both informal networks and strategies implemented locally by mangers, such as ‘huddles’ to discuss how they were feeling and the use of ‘wobble rooms’ to support wellbeing. It was apparent however that provision of support services was iniquitous between organisations and between different staff groups. We know from our previous work that younger nurses experienced more anxiety and depression compared to older, more experienced nurses, and that vulnerable groups may need to be identified for additional support.  

“It is important that we learn from experiences during the pandemic and our research highlights a need for strategic planning and provision of mental health services in the future. This should include strategies to convene psychological support services for front-line staff quickly in the event of similar global or local major incidents.” 

The research concluded: “Support for staff is essential both throughout the pandemic and afterwards, and it is important that preparation of individuals regarding building resilience is recognised. It is also clear that psychological support and services for nurses and the wider healthcare team need to be available and quickly convened in the event of similar major incidents, either global or local.” 

One nurse involved in the study said: “I have set up a WhatsApp group for my team who are redeployed to the ward for support and also I have made an unused room in my now empty clinic room into a ‘wobble room’ where the staff can rest and try and gather their thoughts. It has lots of tissues, soft music, coffee and love.”   

For more comments from nursing staff involved in the study please see Table 2 in the research paper here –