According to a new poll, conducted by the NHS Confederation and Care Women Leaders Network, the physical and mental wellbeing of female health and care staff in England significantly worsened because of working through the COVID-19 pandemic.
The poll took place between February and March 2021. More than 80% of female respondents who completed the new survey – including nurses, doctors, managers, admin staff and allied health professionals – reported their job had a greater negative impact than usual on their emotional wellbeing as a result of the pandemic, up from 72% last summer. The results also showed 65% reported a negative impact on their physical health – a 13-percentage-point jump from the last survey.
More than 1,200 NHS staff responded to at least part of the survey, carried out by the NHS Confederation’s Health and Care Women Leaders Network, with about 900 completing it in full, including more than 800 staff who identified as female. The results cover the responses of the women who answered every question.
The survey, which follows a similar poll carried out in June, does highlight some of the positive experiences of female staff during the COVID-19 crisis, including increased opportunities for flexible working, improved teamwork and better access to technology and some of the hopes of staff for the future, including continued flexible working and better work/life balance.
However, the most recent findings also show how significantly caring responsibilities outside work have grown since the summer for female staff. The results showed women working in health and care took on an average of about 13 hours extra a week in unpaid caring responsibilities, compared with before the pandemic, rising from about 11 hours extra a week in the last survey. There was also an increase in the total number of hours spent each week on these responsibilities compared with the summer, from an average of about 18 to about 20.
Furthermore, female health and care staff with long-term health conditions reported a greater negative impact of the pandemic on their physical health compared with those without long-term conditions, and they also reported feeling less safe sharing concerns with managers. Perhaps most startlingly, nearly 87% of respondents with long-term conditions reported that their job has had a more negative impact on their emotional wellbeing since the pandemic started, compared with 78.9% of those without.
The Network will work with employers and national partners to understand the reasons for this disparity and what more needs to be done to support the workforce in light of these findings.
The findings also give weight to calls made by the NHS Confederation for extra investment to support the workforce in the long term and head off a hemorrhaging of doctors, nurses, and other frontline health workers, in a letter to the Prime Minister jointly signed by NHS Providers, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges and Unison.
Samantha Allen, chair of the NHS Confederation’s Health and Care Women Leaders Network and chief executive of Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said, ‘These survey findings underline the importance of the focus being placed upon the physical and mental health of NHS and care staff. As the majority of the health and care workforce is female, a significant burden in overcoming the enormous challenges we face in recovering services will fall on the shoulders of women.
‘We need to make sure we look after people, after the incredibly difficult experiences they have been through during the pandemic while supporting patients, families, and carers and with the increased responsibilities of caring for children and adults outside of work. Looking after our staff will enable us to continue looking after the people who need our services. The findings of this survey must be a driver of real and lasting change.’
Visit the NHS Confederation website to read the survey results in full.