Are you experiencing the Covid-19 Effect? As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage populations across the globe, nurses are facing a form of mass trauma that could have effects far into the future, according to a new report from the International Council of Nurses (ICN). The ICN refers to this trauma the “COVID-19 Effect.”
Preliminary findings of a new survey of the ICN’s 130-plus National Nurses Associations (NNAs), coupled with studies by the NNAs and other sources, suggest that the COVID-19 Effect is “a unique and complex form of trauma with potentially devastating consequences in both the short- and long-term for individual nurses and healthcare systems they work in,” according to a press release.
The mass trauma of the COVID-19 Effect results from both the deaths and infections experienced among nurses, as well as mental health consequences. At the end of December 2020, the cumulative number of reported COVID-19 deaths in nurses in 59 countries was 2,262, says the ICN. That compares with 1,097 in August and 1,500 in October.
Brazil, the United States and Mexico have the highest number of reported COVID-19 nurse deaths. More alarming, the ICN says that the figure of 2,262 is likely a significant underestimate, due to the absence of a systematic, standardized global surveillance system.
Also at the end of December 2020, more than 1.6 million healthcare workers were infected with COVID-19 in 34 countries. The ICN notes that in many countries, nurses were the biggest healthcare worker group to have COVID-19.
A Massive Mental Toll
Besides the tremendous physical cost to the nursing workforce, the COVID-19 Effect has inflicted a huge mental burden. ICN’s survey revealed that close to 80% of the NNAs that responded received reports of mental health distress from nurses working in the COVID-19 response. The report quotes studies from China, the U.S. Spain, Brazil, and other countries documenting nurse stress, anxiety, exhaustion, and burnout.
The COVID-19 Effect, states the report, is a complex phenomenon that is intertwined with various issues including persistently high workloads, increased patient dependency and mortality, burnout, inadequate personal protective equipment, the fear of spreading the virus to families and relatives, an increase in violence and discrimination against nurses, COVID-19 denial and the propagation of misinformation, and a lack of social and mental health support.
One response to nurses’ mental health concerns came from the American Nurses Foundation. In May, in partnership with other major nursing organizations, it launched the Well-being Initiative — a set of resources to help nurses manage the stress and overcome the trauma caused by COVID-19.
The pandemic may have devastating consequences in the long term, suggests the ICN. Previously, the ICN projected a global shortfall of more than 10 million nurses by 2030 but now says that the COVID-19 Effect could increase that number to as high as 14 million nurses in the future.
“Such a shortfall would impact all healthcare services in the post-COVID-19 era to such an extent that I would argue the health of the nursing workforce could be the greatest determinant of the health of the world’s population over the next decade,” says Howard Catton, ICN CEO, in the press release.