Primary health care nurses threatened with job losses at height of COVID-19

2 September 2020

Almost half of the Australian primary health care nurses (PHC) who took part in a national survey at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic had their hours cut, were threatened with, or actually ended up, losing their jobs, a new study has revealed.

The majority of the participating PHC nurses also reported never or only sometimes having access to sufficient Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in their workplace, while a third (34%) felt the care provided in their workplace was significantly or slightly worse than before the pandemic.

Fears over personal physical and psychological safety, as well as lack of job security or reduced hours, also drove more than one in five (22%) participating PHC nurses to consider resigning in the grip of the pandemic.

Undertaken by the Primary Health Care Nursing Research Group (PHCNRG), based at the University of Wollongong (UOW), the study, The Experiences of Primary Healthcare Nurses During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Australia, sets out to explore and understand the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the employment status and role of PHC nurses, as well as their access to PPE.

“We were hearing stories of nurses having hours reduced or being let go and it was scaring us that we were in the middle of pandemic and yet nurses were losing their jobs,” lead author Professor Elizabeth Halcomb, Professor of Primary Health Care Nursing at UOW’s School of Nursing, told the ANMJ.

“It seemed ludicrous, at a time when we needed all the health care workers we could get, to have nurses telling us that they were losing their jobs and having hours cut.”

The study surveyed 637 primary health care nurses from across the country during April at the height of the pandemic.

Findings highlight the significant impact COVID-19 has had on the employment of PHC nurses, their role, and the quality of care delivered.

They also revealed a significant lack of PPE within primary health care settings.

Examining access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), the study found less than half (47%) of respondents said that their workplaces had COVID-19 specific PPE guidelines. Just 23% of respondents reported having sufficient access to P2/N95 masks at all times.

Respondents reported a high level of concern regarding PPE shortages and inadequate access to PPE in their workplaces. Some spoke of management rationing PPE and others suggested hospitals were being prioritised with supply.

“The other thing that nurses are concerned about is ongoing chronic disease management of patients out in the community and what that is going to look like as the pandemic progresses because people are perhaps not getting the care they need or attending their usual appointments to keep their health in check.”

Professor Halcomb stresses that PHC nurses must be properly supported through the pandemic to ensure they are not lost to the profession.

“If we don’t support and manage their mental health and the issues facing them, then we run the risk of ending up with a significant workforce shortage,” she argues.

“Everyone is putting an emphasis on the quality of primary care and the need to develop the system, but if we don’t have sufficient staff that leaves us open to not being able to meet the demand we’ve created.”

To gain a better understanding of the effects COVID-19 has had on the nursing, midwifery and personal care workforce, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation in all states and territories have partnered with the Rosemary Bryant AO Research Centre to launch a national COVID-19 Workforce Survey.

The ANMF (SA Branch) is urging nurses, midwives and personal care workers to take part and share the COVID-19 Workforce Survey with their colleagues.

Take part in the survey by visiting https://is.gd/covidandwork  

This story was originally published ANMJ on 28 August. Written by Robert Fedele. Read the full article here.