MOST Australians are counting down to a festive season with newfound freedom surrounded by family and friends.

Meanwhile, front-line health workers are bracing for a potential summer surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalisations.

They’re also concerned about the potential impact of the new Omicron variant.

A summer surge would put even more pressure on health workers who, as our research shows, are already experiencing high levels of distress.

While the bulk of the responsibility for addressing the well-being of clinical staff falls on health services and governments, we can all do our bit to prevent a mass health worker exodus.

What did our study find?

Health workers often experience high levels of stress as a result of working long hours or shift work, providing emotional support to patients and their families, and patient deaths. The pandemic has increased this stress.

We surveyed almost 3,700 health workers including nurses, midwives, doctors and allied health staff such as social workers, physiotherapists and occupational therapists in Australia and Denmark.

We found COVID-19 negatively affected health workers’ psychological well-being and personal lives, despite the relatively lower numbers of cases and deaths in Australia compared with other countries.

About a quarter of those we surveyed reported symptoms of psychological distress, including depression, anxiety and stress.

Their main concerns were contracting the virus, putting family members at risk and caring for infected patients.

We also found:

  • three-quarters of health workers agreed with the statement “people close to me have been concerned about my health”
  • almost one-quarter of respondents avoided telling people they worked at a health service. Several reported receiving a negative reaction when they wore their uniform in public
  • pregnant staff were concerned about the potential impact of COVID on themselves and their baby
  • wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) was challenging and resulted in headaches and dehydration
  • health workers had difficulties managing their paid work and family responsibilities, including supporting children with remote learning.

Employees who thought their health service had responded appropriately to the pandemic and provided sufficient staff support had better mental health than those who didn’t.

This suggests investing resources in support initiatives helps protect health worker well-being, and health services to assist and retain staff.

Without adequate support, the safe, high-quality care we rely on could be eroded by a mass job exodus, rising rates of absenteeism, and reduced quality of patient care.

What can we do to help?

We all have a role to play in protecting the well-being of this crucial workforce and ensuring the sustainability of health services.

Government and health services urgently need to:

1) implement best practice mental health and well-being initiatives for health workers. A range of initiatives have been implemented during the pandemic, but if they don’t meet the needs of health workers, they’re unlikely to be used or successful. New models of support need to be co-designed with health workers and tested so we know what works

2) build an ongoing system to monitor health worker mental health and well-being. Most data collected about health worker well-being during the pandemic is from single-site studies of a fixed point in time. Large, ongoing studies can help us track health worker well-being and any changes over time, including the long-term impact of the pandemic

3) encourage health workers to access support when needed.

The public can also play a role by:

4) getting vaccinated, including your booster, when eligible. And following the public health guidelines in your area. High vaccination rates help reduce the risk of new variants emerging and protect us if they do emerge. A booster dose will give you stronger and longer lasting protection against COVID

5) using 000 and hospital emergency departments only for medical emergencies. If the situation isn’t urgent contact your GP, local pharmacist or Health Direct on 1800 022 222 (or Nurse-On-Call in Victoria on 1300 60 60 24)

6) being kind and respectful to health workers, who have experienced higher levels of aggression and abuse than normal during the pandemic. Health workers should feel safe at work.The Conversation

Sara Holton is a Senior Research Fellow at Deakin University.

Bodil Rasmussen is Professor in Nursing at Deakin University.

Karen Wynter is a Senior Research Fellow at Deakin University.

Kate Huggins is a senior researcher at the Institute for Health Transformation at Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.



The statements or opinions expressed in this article reflect the views of the authors and do not represent the official policy of the AMA, the MJA or InSight+ unless so stated.

5 thoughts on “6 ways to prevent a mass exodus of health workers

  1. Anonymous says:

    Stop mandatory vaccination. I will not return to nursing until ethics in nursing and the medical profession returns. Coercion is not informed consent.

  2. SHICA says:


  3. Anonymous says:

    What about giving a pay rise. Wages have been stagnant whilst having to do more with less being the expectation.

    And, staff work continuously in case covid patients surge isn’t good. Ensure people are given a break.

  4. Katrina says:

    You missed one on your list:

    #1 Don’t unnecessarily create a workforce shortage by firing health care workers who choose not to get the Covid vaccine.

  5. Anonymous says:

    GPs are also under significant stress, often with little or no support. I resent the fact that so many articles on this subject have a throwaway line of ‘go see your GP’ as if this solves the problem because clearly GPs must be fine because they don’t work in the hospital system! It’s another example of specialist colleagues minimising the role of GPs within the system. Sending patients to their GPs with non-urgent issues is of course completely appropriate – but positing this as a solution to health system stress forgets that GPs are frontline workers, too. We are also struggling with seeing patients face-to-face in a pandemic, with difficulty accessing proper ppe (and often not being able to get fit testing), worrying about out own health and our family’s health, as well as trying to balance this with home school and small children. We don’t have big HR departments or wellbeing services. We also have diminishing incomes due to having to bulk bill for vaccination services that pay next to nothing but take a long time while we try and convince patients vaccines are a good idea (and we are happy to do this because it is the right thing to do!). I am just getting fed up by being forgotten. It was bad enough when the government didn’t think we were ‘frontline’ enough to access vaccines early on, even though we, along with our ED colleagues, were the ones seeing the coughs and colds and aches. I would have thought our colleagues would have at least had some inkling of what we are facing.

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