Experiences and concerns of health workers throughout the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK: A longitudinal qualitative interview study
Borek AJ., Pilbeam C., Mableson H., Wanat M., Atkinson P., Sheard S., Martindale A-M., Solomon T., Butler CC., Gobat N., Tonkin-Crine S.
Objective To identify the experiences and concerns of health workers (HWs), and how they changed, throughout the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK. Methods Longitudinal, qualitative study with HWs involved in patient management or delivery of care related to COVID-19 in general practice, emergency departments and hospitals. Participants were identified through snowballing. Semi-structured telephone or video interviews were conducted between February 2020 and February 2021, audio-recorded, summarised, and transcribed. Data were analysed longitudinally using framework and thematic analysis. Results We conducted 105 interviews with 14 participants and identified three phases corresponding with shifts in HWs’ experiences and concerns. (1) Emergency and mobilisation phase (late winter-spring 2020), with significant rapid shifts in responsibilities, required skills, and training, and challenges in patient care. (2) Consolidation and preparation phase (summer-autumn 2020), involving gradual return to usual care and responsibilities, sense of professional development and improvement in care, and focus on learning and preparing for future. (3) Exhaustion and survival phase (autumn 2020-winter 2021), entailing return of changes in responsibilities, focus on balancing COVID-19 and non-COVID care (until becoming overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases), and concerns about longer-term impacts of unceasing pressure on health services. Participants’ perceptions of COVID-19 risk and patient/public attitudes changed throughout the year, and tiredness and weariness turned into exhaustion. Conclusions Results showed a long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on UK HWs’ experiences and concerns related to changes in their roles, provision of care, and personal wellbeing. Despite mobilisation in the emergency phase, and trying to learn from this, HWs’ experiences seemed to be similar or worse in the second wave partly due to many COVID-19 cases. The findings highlight the importance of supporting HWs and strengthening system-level resilience (e.g., with resources, processes) to enable them to respond to current and future demands and emergencies.