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SA's front-line nurses are suffering severe psychological distress: survey

07 August 2020 - 13:51 By suthentira govender
Three in five nurses who participated in a national survey reported that they were concerned about passing Covid-19 infections to their family members.
Three in five nurses who participated in a national survey reported that they were concerned about passing Covid-19 infections to their family members.
Image: Jackie Clausen

SA's front-line nurses are suffering psychological distress and a lack of confidence in their knowledge about Covid-19, and are worried about infecting their families.

These are some of the findings from a Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and University of KwaZulu-Natal Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine national survey of 7,607 health-care professionals, including nurses and medical practitioners.

Conducted between April and May, the survey aimed to determine the physical and emotional effects Covid-19 has had on the country's health fraternity in state and private hospitals.

“Health-care workers have been at the forefront of fighting the pandemic, and are at high risk of contracting the coronavirus.

“This is in addition to the already strenuous conditions under which they work, including long hours, psychological distress, fatigue, occupational burnout, stigma and physical and psychological violence,” the survey stated.

It said that, according to the national health department, at least 24,000 health workers have been infected with Covid-19 and an estimated 100 have died.

The survey looked at issues pertaining to Covid-19, including levels of knowledge, awareness, the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), risk, concerns, health and psychosocial wellbeing.

Half the participants work in the four most affected provinces — Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and Western Cape — and two in five of the respondents are nurses.

The survey found that while half the health-care professionals were confident about their knowledge of the coronavirus, nurses were uncertain.

Three-quarters of the health professionals surveyed felt their occupation placed them at higher risk of contracting Covid-19.

“Over half the health professionals felt they did not have adequate PPE, which put them at risk. A quarter of health professionals felt their underlying health conditions put them at risk of contracting Covid-19.

“Overall, more than two-thirds of participants expressed the need for all forms of PPE.”

The survey also showed overall confidence in the use of PPE was low.

The levels of concern about health and wellbeing were significantly different by profession. Nearly half of the nurses were extremely concerned about family members and their personal health.

“Three in five nursing practitioners were concerned about passing infection to family members.”

Nurses reported the lowest general heath and wellbeing compared to medical practitioners and other health-care professionals.

“A quarter of nurses experienced severe psychological distress. Health professionals working in the public sector experienced higher psychological distress than those in the private sector.

“Health professionals who reported high psychological distress reported low levels of general health and wellbeing, while health professionals who reported high general wellbeing reported low levels of psychological distress,” the survey found.