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Research study advises key learnings for wellbeing of Health and Social Care UK workforce

A study of over 3,000 members of the Health and Social Care workforce across the UK during the first wave of COVID-19 from May to July 2020 has revealed key learnings for management to aid the wellbeing of staff.

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Image courtesy of Unsplash.

This collaborative research project led by Ulster University and supported by researchers from Queen’s University, Bath Spa University and King’s College London surveyed over 3,000 nurses, midwives, allied health professionals (such as occupational therapists), social workers and social care workers working in care homes and in people’s own homes about their wellbeing and coping strategies.

Online survey respondents can be grouped into three distinct categories: those who had generally positive accounts, those who admitted some work-related challenges and pointed out areas for improvement, and those who reported generally negative experiences of working during the pandemic. The research findings endorsed by The British Association of Social Workers outlines a series of improvements for workforce management including how to improve work context and conditions and how improving connections and communications can be facilitated to aid staff wellbeing.

Amongst the areas for improvement are calls for enhancements to work context and conditions including greater flexibility around working hours, location of work (where possible) and recognition of caring responsibilities outside of work. Some respondents also argued for more involvement in decision making, more autonomy and flatter hierarchies to allow staff to make well-informed decisions faster during times of crisis. Better and consistent communication from management is recommended to avoid the confusion experienced during the early days of the pandemic but was acknowledged as difficult.  Frequent check ins and regular virtual contact with managers, peers and colleagues were valued by staff and impacted positively on wellbeing. 

The research team from Queen's University were Dr John Moriarty, from the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work; and Dr Heike Schroder, and Dr Denise Currie from Queen's Management School.

Dr Moriarty said: “It is clear from our survey and report that our systems of health and care will only prove to be as resilient in the people who work in them. Many frontline staff attest to experiencing high levels of stress, anxiety and uncertainty throughout the pandemic. Anything that can be done by way of information and scenario-planning to reduce that uncertainty is likely to impact how those equipped those staff are for the enormous task ahead.”

Dr Schroder added: "Clearly many of our respondents, and, in fact, most health and social care workers, are under considerable stress during these difficult times. Support and appreciation from managers, employers, politics and society are very important elements in mitigating this stress and in keeping people motivated. However, it is also clear that we need to review current pay structures as well as employment terms and conditions to adequately show our appreciation for their outstanding work.”

Lead researcher Dr Paula McFadden from Ulster University commented: “As the UK records increased cases of COVID-19 it is clear the virus will be a feature in our lives for a lot longer than was once first projected. It is important to take stock of the impact that the sudden changes the global pandemic has brought upon health and social care services and health and social care workers and how we can best support them to carry out their vital work supporting patients, service users and local communities. This research aims to provide managers with a series of recommendations to aid the safety and wellbeing of staff as we navigate the next wave of the pandemic. The main messages from this research are informed by the front-line health and social care workers who took the time to complete this survey.  The research team would like to extend sincere thanks to everyone who participated during this very difficult time.”

Carolyn Ewart, National Director of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) commented:”BASW welcome this research on staff wellbeing and coping during the Covid-19 pandemic and endorse the report. The strength in this research is that we can draw comparisons across the 4 regions and across disciplines to see how social work practitioners report their experiences of working in this unprecedented time. We are also in favour of this research being conducted over a further 12 months to see if there are changes over time.”

The first phase of this research project was funded by the Northern Ireland Social Care Council and the Southern Health and Social Care Trust.  The HSCB PHA in Northern Ireland have funded the remainder of the project and today’s findings are from the first of three surveys being conducting over a period of 18 months from May 2020 until October 2021.

The full report can be found here and the Executive Summary with Good Practice Guidance can be found here

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