COVID-19 has changed the way that health professionals deliver patient-centred care. Public restrictions protecting against the pandemic have challenged normal practice, and the primary care sector has never been under so much pressure.
Studies from Phoenix Australia, the Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health, show that health care workers across the system are feeling the strains of the pandemic as they face barriers to providing their usual standard of care. On top of routine stress, additional factors impacting practitioners are:
- Having to limit face-to-face support available to patients (particularly those with mental health concerns)
- Witnessing the suffering of patients caused by delays to non-essential medical procedures
- Pressure to be constantly up-to-date and informed on the latest COVID-19 news, restrictions and vaccination updates
- Extended hours of work impacting on family and social responsibilities
- PPE negatively impacting patients who use facial cues to understand communication (e.g. the elderly, those with disabilities), and making it harder to read and respond to the facial responses of patients wearing masks
Supporting your staff through COVID-19
Mental health problems are estimated to have doubled in Australia in the past year. As practices continue to respond to the mental health of their patients, the wellbeing of staff should not be overlooked. During these periods of increased community anxiety, it is important to destigmatise mental health in the community by leading by example. Recognise your limits, check in with colleagues, and make sure you are equipped to measure and manage your own mental health.
To protect primary care workers from chronic stress, the following resources for health professionals have been selected to ensure that staff are able to support each other, and retain the capacity to fulfil their roles:
- E-Mental Health in Practice Resources: E-Mental Health in Practice (EMHPRAC) have created an extensive list of resources for practitioners and patients https://www.emhprac.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Managing-Your-Mental-Health-Online-During-Covid-19-2.pdf
- Telehealth: Confidential psychological telehealth appointments for doctors from DRS4DRS https://www.drs4drs.com.au/getting-help/#telemedicine
- Health Check: Do a confidential 20-minute check of your mental health https://mindspot.org.au/
- Wellbeing videos: quick self-help video clips for health professionals from Black Dog Institute: https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/the-essential-network/helping-myself-and-my-team/quick-self-help-techniques/
- GP Support Program: RACGP have a program to support GPs with counselling services https://www.racgp.org.au/racgp-membership/member-offers/the-gp-support-program
- Nurse and Midwife support: https://www.nmsupport.org.au/
These additional resources are useful for health staff and patients to manage mental health during lockdown restrictions:
COVID-19 has proven the resilience of the primary care sector in continuing to adapt and deliver high-quality health services. Health staff have showcased their strength and compassion as they have responded to the mental health needs of our community, but improving the health of Western Sydney begins with securing the health of our medical professionals.