The impact of COVID-19 on social care workers’ workload, wellbeing and ability to provide care safely: Findings from the UK

Professor Shereen Hussein (@DrShereeHussein)

The British social care workforce has been under extreme pressure since the onset of COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. This pressure comes to a workforce that has faced longstanding challenges in recruiting and retaining staff. These shortages are attributed to an array of factors including the increasingly fragmented structure of the sector, low pay and insecure employment among others.

As part of a Health Foundation funded research project, we developed and conducted an online ‘pulse’ survey for care workers. The aim was to understand care workers’ perception of the immediate implications of COVID-19 on their wellbeing, working conditions, and intentions to stay or leave the employer and/or sector. This is the first step within a larger sub-study focused on understanding the impact of the pandemic on the sustainability of this workforce. The survey took place between 3 July and 10 August 2020 and a total of 296 frontline care workers completed the survey.

A summary of key findings:

  • 56% of frontline care workers increased their working hours, and 18% had to self-isolate.
  • Nearly a fifth of those who needed to self-isolate did not receive any pay.
  • A staggering 81% indicated increased workload since the onset of COVID-19.
  • Alarming percentages of care workers perceived to have not received adequate COVID-19 training or clear guidance nor had necessary PPE to do their job safely.
  • Nearly half of the respondents (47%) indicated their general-health had worsened since the onset of COVID-19.
  • The implications on care workers’ wellbeing appear to be significant, with 60% indicated that the amount of time their jobs made them feel depressed, gloomy or miserable increased since COVID-19.
  • 81% highlighted that the amount of time their jobs made them feel tense, uneasy or worried grew over the same period.
  • A significant minority of 23% indicated their job satisfaction has increased.
  • On balance, 42% said they have become a little or a lot less satisfied with their job since COVID-19.
  • Half of the respondents felt that the quality of care they were providing had not changed since the onset of COVID-19, and 39% thought that the quality of care they were providing had increased.

The analysis of this survey points to many important issues that require immediate policy attention. The evidence of increased workload, stress and feelings of being unsafe at work calls for practice strategies and guidance to support care workers’ wellbeing at work. It is impressive to observe that while most care workers responding to this survey felt undervalued and neglected, many remain committed to the sector.

The full analysis of the survey data is being written into a working paper which will be published soon. The survey is being complemented by a small number of stakeholder interviews and will inform the design of a two-round large-scale longitudinal survey of frontline care workers to be undertaken in 2021.

Read the blog reflecting on the findings of the survey and visit the RESSCW website to learn more about the project.

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