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The second phase of a UK wide study exploring the impact of providing health and social care during the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed a workforce under pressure with many staff feeling overwhelmed; dealing with increased hours of overtime and reporting lower levels of mental wellbeing.

The project team has developed 15 good practice recommendations at individual, organisational and policy level to support the health and social care workforce.

The COVID-19 Health and Social Care Workforce Study is a three-phase study led by Ulster University in partnership with researchers from Queen’s University Belfast, Bath Spa University, King’s College London and the Southern Health and Social Care Trust in Northern Ireland.

Open to social care workers, social workers, allied health professionals, nurses and midwives, the survey received 3,499 responses from across the UK. The survey was open between November 2020 and January 2021 and builds on findings from the team’s earlier Phase 1 survey (May- June 2020).

The survey measured mental wellbeing, quality of working life, burnout and ways of coping. Open ended questions enabled people to provide more detailed responses and two focus groups were held to gather experiences of both frontline workers and managers.

Overall, respondents had been working more hours overtime since the start of the pandemic compared to before. When asked about the impact of COVID-19 on their work, nearly half (49.3%) of the respondents UK-wide felt overwhelmed by increased pressures, 46.1% felt impacted but not significantly and only 4.6% reported that their service had not been impacted or had been stepped down. Social work and nursing were the most impacted occupational groups.

Responses to open-ended questions and the focus group discussions found some common themes. The over-riding themes remained consistent between the two surveys, and were Working Conditions, Connections with co-workers and employers, and Communication.

Overall wellbeing decreased across all occupational groups. Wellbeing scores indicate an increase in levels of depression and anxiety, which increased from 9% of respondents in the ‘likely’ category and 33% in the ‘possible’ category in the first survey to almost 18% ‘likely’ and a further 22% in the ‘possible’ category in the November-January 2021 survey. Wellbeing levels were lowest among staff who indicated their services were overwhelmed.  Positive coping strategies (e.g., active coping, positive reframing, acceptance, exercise) were associated with higher mental wellbeing, better quality of working life and lower burnout scores. Negative coping strategies (e.g., venting, substance use, self-blame) were associated with lower mental wellbeing, worse quality of working life and higher burnout scores. Ways of coping changed between the first and second surveys. Respondents appeared to be using positive coping strategies less and negative coping strategies more in the second phase.

Based on the survey results the project team has developed 15 Good Practice Recommendations under the three main themes of Changing Conditions, Connections and Communication. The recommendations are applicable on an individual, organisational and policy level to support the health and social care workforce.

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