The COVID-19 outbreak is a unique and unprecedented scenario for many workers, particularly if they have not been involved in similar responses.
We are heading into a situation where social mixing and social contact return to ‘pre-pandemic norms’ and it is expected that winter 2021/2022 will be the first winter in the UK when SARS-CoV2 will co-circulate alongside other respiratory viruses, including seasonal influenza virus.
Seasonal influenza and SARS-CoV-2 viruses have the potential to add substantially to the ‘winter pressures’ usually faced by the NHS, particularly if infection waves from both viruses coincide. The timing and magnitude of potential influenza and SARS-CoV2 infection waves for winter 2021/2022 are currently unknown.
In the view of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), the primary objective of a 2021 COVID-19 booster programme is to reduce the occurrence of serious COVID-19 disease. Outbreaks of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) this coming autumn and flu in the winter could be around twice the magnitude of a normal year and may overlap with another peak in COVID-19 infections, the Academy of Medical Sciences has warned.
The academy formed an advisory group including 29 leading experts and 57 members of the public at the request of the UK’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, to forecast the greatest risks to health this winter and beyond.
The group’s modelling predicts a peak of COVID-19 infections in summer 2021. It shows that although the timing and magnitude of the peak are uncertain and mortality may be less severe than last winter, the rise in infections will put pressure on the health service and lead to an increase in long covid. Additionally, more infections increase the possibility of new and more dangerous variants.
On top of this, the group highlighted that recent easing of restrictions had led to a summer surge of infections typically seen in the winter, such as RSV, bronchiolitis, parainfluenza, and rhinovirus. Respiratory infections can “act synergistically,” meaning that potential interactions between SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory viruses could increase disease severity.
At the end of a shift, some healthcare professionals find it difficult to leave worries or concerns about the day behind. Constantly worrying about or going over what happened that day, or how a patient is getting on is unlikely to make for restful downtime before the next shift.
Coming into contact with people at their most vulnerable as well as caring for them can be emotionally tough, so it is not surprising that healthcare professionals sometimes struggle to take their mind off difficult and stressful elements of their day.
Exercise, meditation and reflection are all activities that can help.
Clinical supervision is also an essential way to help healthcare professionals protect themselves and their wellbeing.
Some of our healthcare professionals have remarked that reminding themselves that there are other members of staff on shift when they leave is an important way to reassure themselves that patients are being well looked after.
This reflective element is highlighted in the Going Home List, originally drawn up by mental health charity, Mind, and subsequently adapted by many NHS employers for their staff.
The list is a simple, eight-step process for mentally dealing with the issues bought up by shift, and then leaving work behind, which starts with reflecting on your day.
Faye McGuinness, head of workplace well-being programmes at Mind, said the end of a shift is a crucial time, especially as healthcare professionals continue to deal with the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘Looking after your mental well-being is so important at this time,’ she says. ‘Switching off at the end of the day and making the most of your time outside of work is one way to do this. It can be helpful to develop end-of-day habits, such as tidying your workspace or making a list of what needs to be done tomorrow.’
Do a final check on your patients at the end of your shift, check you have filled everything in you need to, check your meds charts for signatures, then handover to whoever is taking over, ask if they have any questions or concerns so you can deal with them there and then. Then if you are both satisfied then say goodbye and leave. This final act should reassure you that there are no issues before you leave and therefore you are able to switch off in the knowledge that you completed your care spell.
The focus is about taking a few moments to reconnect with yourself at the end of the working day and bring a sense of compassion to yourself.
Try to tune into a kinder internal voice, listen to the kind of narrative that our best friend would say to us about the day.
Acknowledge it has been a hard day but bring that compassionate voice and be kind to ourselves.
Feeling under pressure is something you and your colleagues may experience. Remember – it is quite normal to feel this way, even without a global pandemic hanging over our heads. Managing your mental health and wellbeing during this time is as important as managing your physical health.
Take care of yourself. Find a coping strategy that works for you like going to the gym, cooking, gardening, meditation, reading, keeping in contact with friends and family etc. Make sure you make time for rest!
Even so, using strategies that have worked for you in the past to manage times of stress can benefit you now. You are the person most likely to know how you can de-stress and you should not be hesitant in keeping yourself psychologically well. This is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.