Female health and care staff report deteriorating physical and mental health due to the pandemic

Over half of those surveyed admitted their work was having a negative impact on their mental and physical health.

Chloe Dawson
5 May 2021
Nurse preparing IV for a patient in intensive care

The pandemic has had a profound effect on the mental and physical health of female workers.

The physical and mental wellbeing of female health and care staff has significantly worsened due to working through the pandemic, the results of a new survey show.

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A poll of 1,200 NHS staff, carried out by the NHS Confederation’s Health and Care Women Leaders Network shows a significant rise in women working across health and care reporting a negative impact from their work on their mental and physical health.

More than 80 per cent 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 per cent last summer.

The results also showed 65 per cent reported a negative impact on their physical health – a 13-percentage-point jump from the last survey.

A greater negative impact.

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.

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But 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.

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 per cent 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 per cent of those without.

On the shoulders of women.

Samantha Allen, chair of the NHS Confederation’s Health and Care Women Leaders Network and chief executive of Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said: “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.

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“We need to see tailored support specifically for the needs of female staff and this should include recruitment, retention, flexible working and career progression. We are concerned that if these issues are not addressed, it could intensify the impact on our workforce at a time when the NHS can ill-afford to lose any more staff.”

Ms Allen adds; “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.”

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