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CV19 Heroes in UK and Ireland report low wellbeing and high burnout

Frontline workers in the UK report lower wellbeing than those in Ireland according to new collaborative research by the University of Gloucestershire and University of Limerick, which identified both the Government response as well as public reaction as key stressors. ​

CV19 Heroes

The project, named “CV19 Heroes” (the paper is titled “Grace Under Pressure”), shows differences between frontline workers’ experiences in the UK and Ireland. The work has been carried out by Dr Rachel Sumner, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Gloucestershire, and Dr Elaine Kinsella, Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Limerick, and was designed to make comparisons in order to help improve the wellbeing of frontline workers in both countries. 

Over 1,600 participants from the UK and Ireland signed up to the study from a wide spectrum of roles: the NHS, frontline healthcare in Ireland, nursing homes, supermarkets, emergency services, postal workers, teachers and delivery providers.

The researchers conducted over 40 in-depth interviews, and have been able to make recommendations based on their findings now being used in a parliamentary review into the wellbeing of frontline workers as the response to the pandemic continues into the New Year. 

All participants reported the stresses and strains of working on the frontline during the pandemic, with those in the UK demonstrating lower wellbeing than those in Ireland. Participants based in the UK rated the Government’s response comparatively lower in terms of timeliness, appropriateness and effectiveness. Specifically, the less favourable judgement of the timeliness of the Government’s response by UK frontline workers can be asso​​ciated with the lower resilience and higher levels of burnout across all sectors. 

The results also show differences between sectors of frontline workers, with the consequences of the type of work being done along with associated working conditions, especially during the early stages of the pandemic, revealing different impacts on wellbeing (previously reported in The Guardian)

This particular area will be the subject of Dr Sumner and Dr Kinsella’s next piece of research. Of particular interest was the number of frontline workers who reported frustrations with the mismatch between what people say (such as outwardly praising frontline workers as heroes and clapping on their doorsteps), and what they do (including taking part in mass gathering, openly contravening lockdown rules, and even pandemic denial or minimisation). This in itself lead to high levels of stress and frustration, and caused low resilience in many. 

One important factor in determining the welfare (defined by levels of resilience, burnout and wellbeing) of all the frontline workers who took part in the study, was the ability to adopt resilient coping strategies, which is very important in predicting the frontline workers’ ability to deal with the stresses of the pandemic in the long term. The results of the study suggest that frontline workers may benefit from specific support in learning and habitualising appropriate coping mechanisms, and this forms one of the primary recommendations. 

The study is being used to support a Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) review and subsequent parliamentary briefing on the mental health and wellbeing of healthcare workers. 

Dr Rachel Sumner, of the University of Gloucestershire, said:
“The courage of our frontline workers is truly incredible. No matter what their division or role, our participants show admirable strength and determination as they live and work through situations the rest of us can’t even imagine. We owe them an enormous debt of gratitude, and we hope the research we’re doing will go some way towards spotlighting their remarkable work, and ensuring that they are given the support that they need to keep going. 

“For the rest of us, our actions must speak as loud as our words in terms of our appreciation and gratitude of the huge efforts and sacrifices our frontliners are making. Being involved in this project has really shown me how important it is for us as the general public not just to clap and say thank you, but to make sure that we do what we can to help their monumental efforts by staying home, keeping our distance, and adhering to the guidelines that have been put in place to keep everyone safe. “ 

Dr Elaine Kinsella, of the University of Limerick, said:
“The findings generated from the CV19 Heroes project are likely to have relevance for future government and organisational policy-makers who have opportunities to shape the conditions for frontline workers during future surges of COVID-19 and other health crises. 

“We are incredibly grateful to all the frontline workers in Ireland and the UK who shared their (sometimes heart-wrenching) experiences with us at different stages of the pandemic. It has been a privilege to get ‘behind the scenes’ accounts which, I hope, will bring about positive advancements in working conditions and psychological support in the near future.” 

To read the full paper click here. You can also follow the CV19 Heroes study on Facebook​.​