'The value of nursing staff has, in modern times, never been more apparent'

 Theresa Fyffe 12 May 2020

On Nurses' Day, Theresa Fyffe reflects on why we must make greater efforts to ensure we look after the mental health and wellbeing of nursing staff right now.

RCN Nurses' Day 2020 logo
Nurses’ Day this year is the 200th anniversary of Nightingale’s birth and should have been, in the WHO-designated International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, a special celebration.

Instead, many people across the globe have died from the COVID-19 virus, including nursing and other health and care staff. The value of nursing staff has, in modern times, never been more apparent. It seems more fitting, now, to reflect on how we can help to protect the people who are doing so much to care for the rest of us.

Nursing and other staff are working under enormous pressure and dealing with a huge amount of uncertainty and turmoil as a consequence of the pandemic. I have no doubt that this includes extra stress and anxiety from the added responsibility and pressure of caring for people with COVID-19. 

The hopes of the nation are focused on their efforts to help their loved ones who have contracted it recover from the virus. The daily expressions of public appreciation and weekly doorstep clapping are evidence of that. While these displays of appreciation provide a very welcome morale boost, we have to make greater efforts to ensure we look after the mental health and wellbeing of staff at this time. 

As well as the extra pressures caused by the pandemic, nursing staff are dealing with the same concerns as the rest of us, such as health concerns for themselves and their family, childcare, being isolated from family or money worries. 

This can have a big impact on mental health and wellbeing. Health and care staff, wherever they work, must get appropriate support from their employers. Organisations need to ensure they have accounted for the potential extra demand for counselling and employee assistance programmes. The Royal College of Nursing also offers a counselling service to our members who need further professional support.

Access to suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) is a continuing concern for nursing staff, particularly those working in care homes and the community. While access has improved in many areas, the Scottish government needs to ensure that all nursing staff, wherever they work, are and continue to be protected to carry out their work safely. 

Many health and care workers will also be temporarily redeployed away from their normal working environment during the pandemic. This may mean working in unfamiliar surroundings or clinical areas outside of their usual practice and can be challenging. It’s vital that employers complete a thorough risk assessment and provide support for staff.

It’s never been more important for nursing staff to get their breaks and to have a space where they can have a rest and something nutritious to eat. Surveys of RCN members in the past show that many nursing staff regularly didn’t get their break before the pandemic due to workforce pressures. 

We have seen positive steps taken by, for example, health boards to support staff wellbeing right now, such as around spaces for breaks, changing facilities and increased occupational health and psychological support. We need to make sure that positive wellbeing initiatives implemented during the pandemic are maintained after the crisis for the long term.

It’s vital that staff wellbeing is prioritised as, while conversations start to move towards considering what the new normal might look like, nursing staff are very much focused on the here and now and continuing to deliver the best possible care in some of the most challenging circumstances. Employers, managers, team leaders and individuals themselves need to make staff wellbeing a priority in order to avoid burnout and reduce negative mental health impacts.

Promoting and protecting mental health and wellbeing will continue to be hugely important because the consequences of the pandemic are going to last for a significant period of time.

As published today (May 12, 2020) in the Daily Record newspaper.

COVID-19 and your mental wellbeing - RCN page with advice, information and resources to maintain mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic.

National Wellbeing Hub - Scottish Government resources and suppoprt for mental health and wellbeing.

Theresa Fyffe

Theresa Fyffe

RCN Scotland Director


Theresa Fyffe has been RCN Scotland Director since 2007 and is a former Deputy Chief Nurse for Scotland, experienced clinician and nurse manager.

Page last updated - 12/05/2020