Female NHS staff say COVID-19 has left them more stressed and exhausted than ever before

Three-quarters of staff said their job had a greater negative impact than usual on their emotional wellbeing as a result of the pandemic.

Chloe Dawson
25 August 2020
Crying nurse

Female NHS staff are not fully supported in their roles.

The NHS risks losing the people who make up the largest proportion of its workforce to stress and exhaustion as a result of the COVID-19 crisis if its female staff are not fully supported in their roles, the results of a new survey show.


The survey carried out by the NHS Confederation’s Health and Care Women Leaders Network, received responses from more than 1,300 women working across health and care in England, and paints a stark picture of the difficulties they have faced during the pandemic, especially in terms of their physical and mental wellbeing.

Staff from BME backgrounds also report feeling traumatised by the disproportionate impact of the virus, which is compounded by concerns over risk assessments not being performed in a timely manner, if at all.

Stressed and exhausted.

Almost three-quarters of respondents (72%) – including managers, nurses, admin staff, doctors, and allied health professionals – reported that their job had a greater negative impact than usual on their emotional wellbeing as a result of the pandemic, and more than half (52%) had suffered a negative impact on their physical health.

Carried out in June, it revealed that staff took on an average of 11.22 additional hours each week of non-work caring responsibilities, but only reduced their working hours to take account of these responsibilities by 1.44 hours each week.


One respondent said: “I am exhausted. I can’t buy food on my day off as I want to hide under the covers and sleep. I can’t face being jolly and excited for [my] children, who are scared Mummy is going to die of COVID.”

Another said: “Managing a full-time job with conflicting priorities, homeschooling, supporting family in the UK and [abroad] takes a toll. It’s financially difficult and emotionally draining.”

The network is concerned that if these issues are not addressed, it could intensify burnout across the sector at a time when the NHS is expected to resume the majority of its patient services, such as non-urgent procedures that had to be paused at the start of the pandemic, while preparing for what is expected to be a demanding winter.

This survey comes after a Royal College of Nursing revealed that the pandemic has had a considerable impact on wellbeing with more than half of nurses saying they’re worried about their own physical (58%) and mental health (52%).


Self-sacrifice is not sustainable.

The NHS Confederation has said warned that the current level of self-sacrifice by staff is unsustainable.

Samantha Allen, chair of the Health and Care Women Leaders Network and chief executive of Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The results of this survey hammer home the wide-ranging toll that the pandemic has had on the health and wellbeing of female health and care workers so far and how the level of pressure and expectation of self-sacrifice is not sustainable, especially as patient services across the NHS continue to resume ahead of winter.

“Women make up more than three-quarters of the NHS workforce, so we cannot afford to let these issues be ignored.

“Now more than ever, women across health and care must have access to the right support so that we can minimise the risk of burnout, protect their wellbeing, and make sure they are mentally and physically healthy enough to continue to care for and support our communities.”

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments