Nurses are at the heart of our NHS, but many leave the medical profession soon after qualifying, with 30–60% of nurses leaving their first place of employment within one year. Now, the COVID-19 pandemic has made the transition from student to nurse even more challenging.
Using our £29,000 funding, researchers are building on previous work which studied the pressures on nurses in their first year of qualifying. In this follow-on study, the research team will look deeper into the effect that COVID-19 has had, and how organisations can better support nurses.
For the last 3 years, researchers at City, University of London School of Health Sciences have studied 190 newly qualified Barts Health NHS nurses. The nurses received regular questionnaire surveys, as well as face-to-face and telephone interviews, designed to measure depression, anxiety, stress, and burnout, along with resilience and work environment. Half of the nurses were given psychological skills training to see if this was an effective intervention.
COVID-19 hit during this initial study and provided researchers with an early insight into how the pandemic added to the pressure on these newly qualified staff. The initial data indicated that the nurses were significantly affected by their experiences and that more than 25% had experienced symptoms related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In the study, one nurse noted: “There have been lots of situations with handling dying patients whose families are unable to come and visit and if they are allowed only one is allowed to visit. This has been very distressing.” Another said “the stressful experience was looking after patients who were acutely unwell with COVID. I found it stressful because there was little we could do for patients other than give them oxygen, so that added to the feeling of helplessness.”
Our seed funding will allow the project to be developed further, with researchers now looking at the long-lasting effects of COVID-19, the main causes of distress and PTSD symptoms and how they can be mitigated, including the relationship between the nurses’ resilience and PTSD symptoms. The funding follows our £3m grant for staff wellbeing at Barts Health NHS Trust and signals its commitment to supporting NHS staff across East London.
This follow-on study aims to provide practical recommendations to assist the NHS in better understanding the wellbeing and psychological support needs of early career nurses – not just at Barts Health NHS Trust, but across the country.
Newly qualified nurse Shataj Choudhury has worked at Barts Health NHS Trust since January 2020. She says: “Working in an acute admissions ward meant my colleagues and I witnessed first-hand the sudden influx of covid patients coming in. Immediately I noticed the difference from caring for only a handful of unwell patients to bays full of sickly people. There was a fear of running out of PPE and also the guilt of not being able to execute our nursing role as best as we could – it is a lot harder to display compassionate care to someone you cannot get too close to.
“Witnessing the death of individuals is something a nurse grows accustomed to, both while as a student and also when you are qualified, however this was different as the death count increased suddenly, leaving us unprepared.
“There are many contributors to the feelings of being burnt out, and the covid pandemic intensified these. But to be a nurse is to already have an understanding that although it may not be an easy career, it is one that can be extremely rewarding and fulfilling.”
Project lead Judy Brook, Associate Dean of Partnerships and Placements at the School of Health Science at City, University of London says: “We are really grateful to have the Barts Charity funding to be able to explore this area of research further. Newly qualified nurses are incredibly important to our nursing workforce but sadly many leave the profession after a short while. We want to be able to support them to stay and contribute to patient care in the NHS. This project will help us to understand their experience during the pandemic and allow us to make recommendations for psychological support services that can be implemented in East London and beyond.”
Our Chief Executive Fiona Miller Smith adds: “Recently, we have seen more than ever how imperative NHS staff are to our health service, so we’re really pleased to give seed funding to help understand the huge impact that COVID-19 has had on newly qualified East London nurses. We hope the funding will lead to interventions which help nurses across the NHS improve their wellbeing and resilience, and continue their nursing careers, providing fantastic care through the pandemic and beyond.”