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COVID-19 is causing stress and burnout in healthcare workers

4 minute read

Workers' compensation

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed enormous physical and psychological stresses on Australia’s healthcare workers, especially those working on the frontline.

In New South Wales, many healthcare workers are preparing for a peak in COVID-19 as daily case numbers continue to rise.

“Since the pandemic began, we have had a significant number of front line workers approaching us with injuries caused directly or indirectly by the stress of COVID-19,” says Legal Practice Manager and Senior Associate Sarah Hunt.

“I expect this number to increase in the coming months unless urgent action is undertaken to address the concerns of at-risk healthcare workers.”

The effect of COVID-19 on healthcare workers’ mental health

The pressure placed on healthcare workers is evident in their alarming responses to recent mental health surveys.

Mental Health Australia surveyed healthcare professionals, which revealed that more than 70% of healthcare workers admitted to their mental health being negatively affected by COVID-19.

Doctors also shared a similar sentiment, with more than 60% reporting that their mental health had been affected and 83% stating they’d experienced a rise in workplace stress and pressure.

“In my experience, even before the COVID19 pandemic began, frontline workers in these industries were prone to psychological injuries at a higher rate than many other industries, says Sarah.

"High workloads, poor staffing levels and a generally stressful work environments left doctors and nurses vulnerable and open to injury. They have had to work under those already stressful conditions and also compete with a pandemic placing increasing pressure on their systems, resources and bodies.”

What are the causes of stress in healthcare workers?

COVID-19 in many cases has exacerbated causes of stress already experienced by people working in healthcare.

There are many other potential causes of psychological injuries like stress in a medical workplace, including:

  • organisation culture

  • bad management practices

  • job content and demands

  • physical work environment

  • lack of support

  • trauma experienced at work.

These factors can also place healthcare workers at a greater risk of suffering a related physical injury, especially when a healthcare systems faces a staffing crisis, as is the case in New South Wales.

The high degree of stress placed on medical professionals, especially nurses, can leave them overworked, stressed, and susceptible to psychological injuries including depression.

While the full impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of healthcare workers has yet to be studied, existing research shows how nurses are among those most vulnerable. In 2019, research was published by the University of Technology Sydney which found the prevalence of depression, anxiety and stress among Australian nurses to be 32.4%, 41.2% and 41.2% respectively.

Nurse advocacy groups including the International Council of Nurses have recognised the mental health distress arising from the pandemic could lead to significant long term psychiatric injuries, including PTSD in nurses.

Without the appropriate support mechanisms for healthcare workers, the industry is at serious risk of losing valuable staff to psychiatric injury.

Frontline healthcare workers are at risk of both psychological and physical injuries. This is compounded for those who work in emergency roles.

At Shine Lawyers, we see frontline workers suffering from an array of physical injuries:

  • muscle tears and strains

  • musculoskeletal injuries

  • illness or disease, including COVID-19 and other communicable diseases, caught in the workplace

  • trauma from slips or falls at work

  • assaults.

These physical injuries can be caused by a lack of equipment, unsafe ergonomic setups at work, faulty equipment, fatigue and the behaviours of others.

“In over 10 years working in this space I have seen hundreds of injured healthcare workers," says Sarah.

"Their injuries have ranged from tears in the shoulder whilst assisting a patient, to catastrophic spinal injuries after a fall at work. The likelihood of physical injuries such as these occurring increases the more overworked and busy these teams are. In October NSW is expected to hit the peak number of hospitalisations since this pandemic began. The potential for increased physical injuries in that context, is frightening.”

If you’ve suffered one of these injuries, our workers’ compensation experts may be able to help you claim compensation to aid your recovery. Contact us, or use our workers’ compensation online claim checker to begin your claim.

If you are or know a healthcare worker who is struggling, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) recommends reaching out to the following support services:

Healthcare worker and doctor support services

If you are or know a healthcare worker who is struggling, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) recommends reaching out to the following support services:

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