Caring for carers

Pandemics, climate change and other disasters are now the ‘new normal’ for frontline workers globally.

A national survey of nearly 10,000 healthcare workers during the second wave of 2020’s COVID-19 pandemic was critical to understand the impact of crises on frontline health workers

The impact of the pandemic on frontline workers

Co-led by Professor Karen Willis, a sociologist at Victoria University and Associate Professor Natasha Smallwood, Respiratory physician from Monash University’s Central Clinical School and the Alfred Hospital, the study was the largest of its type globally.

The survey revealed alarming levels of emotional exhaustion amongst frontline healthcare staff. Many staff were concerned about the impact of the pandemic on patient care. – Professor Karen Willis.

Survey results

The results highlight that mental health issues are widespread in frontline workers during a crisis and this can lead to catastrophic outcomes for individuals, their families and their patients.

Frontline workers indicated that this has led to burnout and distress, with many considering leaving the workforce.

The high incidence of mental ill-health and the low uptake of mental health services, points to an urgent need to understand how healthier work environments can be created, and the type of mental health support frontline workers need.

This research has been crucial for our understanding of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. It will also enable us to better deal with future natural disasters, like floods and fires.

The healthcare workforce is so large, that it is a sizeable portion of the population, who need to feel protected and supported at work. We need long term solutions to solve this which involves large scale organisational change.

Grant from the Lord Mayor's Charitable Foundation

Thanks to a grant from the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, the team are now working on the next phase of this project.

With the help of frontline workers, they will:

  • create pilot support programs
  • provide policy and practice solutions for employers and government.

Mental health problems matter not just for frontline workers themselves, but impact quality of care, patient safety, and workforce retention.

The work being done by Professor Karen Willis and the team will protect these workers and provide safe and comfortable workplaces for them.

This project enables us to examine what healthcare leaders need to best support the mental health needs of staff, as well as finding out the solutions that frontline healthcare workers want and will value.