How are the frontliners? The possibilities for the health care personnel after the pandemic
The world is currently battling its worst enemy in history. It caused a lot of death, suffering and mayhem on everyone’s life. It was able to put a lot of countries in lockdown, crash healthcare systems and possibly cause global recession. This pandemic is caused by a virus commonly known as, Covid-19.
What is Covid-19?
According to WHO, covid-19 “is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus”. People can get infected by exposure to droplets when people sneeze or cough. It is so contagious that within four months, it has infected 211 countries, with 1, 214, 466 positive cases and 67, 767 deaths. All based on WHO website as of April 7, 2020.
Europe, which has a large population of elderly people, was hit hard and has now more cases than the epicentre of the disease in China. This caused a huge number of hospitalizations, which maximised the best healthcare systems in the world. The medical frontliners are facing this pandemic, geared up and ready to fight.
Who are the frontliners?
The frontliners are generally, everyone that are still working outside despite the lockdown measures, to provide essential services to the community. These includes grocery store staff, police, firemen, etc. But what I am specifically curious about, is the medical frontliners.
The medical frontliners are the doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants and other allied health professionals. They are the ones who are in direct contact with the Covid-19 patients.
While most of us are in the comfort of our own home, bored and getting fat, these people go to work, stressed and exposed to the imminent danger in their workplace with limited protection. This makes me wonder, how are they?
How are they?
Recently, I’ve been asking my friends from all over the world, working as a nurse, how they are and what is the situation in their respective country of residence. All of them, luckily, are well and some are extra lucky that they booked a week of annual leave a year before this pandemic happened. Unfortunately, some of my friends must do shifts because of rent and bills. One of them said, that she is scared to take another shift not because of the virus but because she almost got attacked by a drunk/junkie on her way home from a night shift. Most of them are aware of what they signed up for. There is always that fear of contacting the virus or worse, spreading the virus but because this is their chosen career, they just take it day by day.
According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “50% of people exposed to confirmed Covid-19 cases as of February 26, are health care personnel. In Ireland, 1,263 of the positive cases are healthcare workers, as of April 4. It is almost a quarter of the total cases in Ireland. I cannot imagine the numbers in other countries who have a greater number of cases. There are also reported deaths of doctors in some countries like China, Italy, UK and Philippines. This is particularly alarming, because as medical protective equipment is running out, countries will be devastatingly crashed if the frontliners are decreasing and cannot provide efficient care. The government needs to make sure that support and protection is provided to the them. But this is particularly difficult to address if one of the mass producers of PPE’s is also trying to keep the virus at bay. It is probably one of the reasons why the health offices discourage people from buying and wearing masks to keep the supply focused on the healthcare workers. But even in hospitals, some wards are also not advised to wear it. According to my friend, who works in Australia as a CCU nurse, she is both annoyed and scared to go to work because their superiors was limiting use of mask in the Coronary care unit. The same problem is faced by my previous colleagues here in Dublin, because they are working in CCU, masks are not advised. It is understandable why some measures like this, are implemented. They are trying to concentrate the supply to wards that are already in direct care of Covid-19 patients. This measures however, reflects negatively to most healthcare workers. They feel neglected and unsafe.
Are healthcare workers happy with their career choice?
According to a survey done by AMN Healthcare in 2017, “83% of nurses are happy with their career choice, 73% say that they are satisfied with the quality of care that they provide, nearly half of nurses said that they don’t trust their leaders and 55% are worried that their nursing job are affecting their health. This is probably why there is a worldwide shortage of nurses and it seemed worse compared to 5 years ago. I can attest to this because as a nurse myself, I have been recruited to work in several countries like Australia, UK, U.S., and the Middle East.
Also, a study done in Greece in 2015, showed how working in a highly stressful environment can affect healthcare professionals’ well-being. Dealing with people’s lives and responding or not responding appropriately affects all healthcare workers. And this study was done during normal situations. I cannot imagine the stress they are feeling now. We used to joke around that, we as nurses, are 10% human and 90% stress.
What are the predictions for healthcare workers after the pandemic?
According to a brilliant article I read from The Atlantic, written by Ed Yong, “health-care workers will take time to heal: One to two years after SARS hit Toronto, people who dealt with the outbreak were still less productive and more likely to experience burnout and post-traumatic stress”. This would mean that a currently short-staffed ward could be worse after the pandemic.
On a lighter note, this outbreak taught everyone how to properly wash their hands. This could prevent another pandemic or minimize, at least, hospital admissions. More people are also aware of how important health is and how certain practices can cause new viral disease to spread.
The government would hopefully, allocate more budget on their healthcare system and consider forming a government office composed of experienced professionals (e.g. epidemiologist, virologist and researchers) that would monitor, study and develop strategies to deal with viral outbreaks in the future.
Caring and supporting our healthcare workers would be our best bet in controlling outbreaks in the future.