How district nurses can support team wellbeing during the pandemic and beyond
The COVID-19 pandemic has required rapid adaptation of the community nursing service, including the introduction of online communication platforms to prevent COVID-19 transmission among staff. Remote working has protected the workforce in the community from being decimated through team sickness, but has resulted in nurses who are feeling anxious and isolated from their colleagues while experiencing increased workloads, with complex and often emotionally challenging situations. The pressures of community nursing and the associated impact on sickness absence relating to mental health are well documented. The resources made available to support staff wellbeing were increased during the pandemic, but there remains some disparity of access to these resources. There is much that can be done by the district nurse as a leader of a team to ensure that the pressures are managed in a way that promotes team cohesion and mutual respect, while ensuring that open communication about wellbeing is encouraged.
The NHS Long Term Plan (NHS England, 2019) acknowledged that nurses were under pressure even prior to the pandemic. Over the past 10 years, recruitment has not met demand, and there were 38 785 nursing vacancies unfilled in December 2019, when details emerged of the first cases of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China (NHS Digital, 2020). During the past 10 years, this decrease in staffing has been reflected in the community nursing specialism, with the number of qualified district nurses reducing by 43% (Queen's Nursing Institute (QNI) and Royal College of Nursing (RCN), 2019).
The pressures of community nursing are recognised as having similarities with but also differences from those faced by nurses working in hospital settings. Although the causes of workplace pressures may not exactly align, absence rates attributed to mental health have been consistently high in all nursing professionals and appear to be increasing (Table 1).
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