Burnout in Agency Nursing
The well-being of agency healthcare workers has become a topic of interest for many employers in the healthcare industry over recent years. As studies have emerged showing the high prevalence of burnout within the sector, and the negative consequences it has not only on the worker but on the quality of care they provide, it has become a huge cause for concern. Another reason behind this growing interest is the prediction of a shortfall estimating 18 million healthcare workers by 2030. With extensive studies showing stress and burnout to be the leading causes of early retirement and career changes, it has become apparent that the wellbeing of agency healthcare workers needs to be prioritised to ensure the successful running of our healthcare systems.
Burnout is a syndrome caused by chronic occupational stress that is insufficiently managed. It has been described as the point at which typically satisfying, meaningful work becomes unfulfilling. The lethal mix of long hours, stressful environments and lack of recovery periods healthcare workers face makes them a prime target. Studies of Irish nurses and healthcare workers conducted during the pandemic found almost three-quarters of those surveyed to be suffering from burnout. While COVID has put increased pressure on our healthcare system, burnout has always been high among the healthcare workforce. Research conducted in Cork University Hospital in 2018, two years before the beginning of the pandemic, found similar if not more severe results, with 78% of agency nurses and 100% of care assistants meeting the criteria for burnout.
Burnout can be detrimental to both the physical and mental well-being of agency nurses and healthcare workers. In terms of physical consequences, it has been correlated with cardiovascular and musculoskeletal disorders and has been shown as a significant predictor of diabetes, high cholesterol, and mortality in those below 45 years of age. Psychologically, it has been associated with insomnia, increased depressive thoughts, use of antidepressants and hospitalisation for mental disorders.
The consequences of burnout are not only limited to the well-being of the agency worker, but also to the patients in their care. Healthcare workers and agency nurses suffering from burnout have double the risk of making a medical error and have been linked to several suboptimal patient care practices. In studies of nurses, higher burnout rates have even been associated with higher patient mortality rates.
Preventing Burnout in Agency Nursing
So how do we address this? As with most issues surrounding well-being, there is no one right answer. However, many studies have come to the conclusion that a combination of both individual and organisational efforts is the best way to combat burnout.
As individuals whose profession revolves around the care of others, many agency nurses and healthcare workers can find it difficult to prioritise their own self-care. In order to build resilience and cope with large workloads, it is imperative we do all we can to help our agency nurses and healthcare workers practice self-care and create more balance within their lives. This will contribute to the protection of their health, wellbeing, job satisfaction and life satisfaction. Emphasising the importance of evidence-based self-care interventions such as physical exercise, a balanced diet, adequate sleep and partaking in recreational activities is the first step toward improving the well-being of our healthcare workers. Improving the self-care habits of agency nurses and healthcare workers has been shown to lead to an increase in physical, mental and emotional well-being, with knock-on effects such as greater compassion and empathy for their patients.
The Irish Health Service Executive (HSE) has taken many steps toward addressing these issues. The Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) Service has provided access to both healthcare staff and management to gain advice and support on any issues related to well-being. This ranges from providing resources to those dealing with increased workloads to staff in isolation requiring psychosocial support. Nursing staff have access to counselling sessions and group supports through means of video and telephone. They have also employed occupational health professionals to help combat the psychological and physical effects of working through the pandemic.
In order to protect our agency nurses and healthcare workers, their patients, and ensure we don’t meet the shortfalls predicted by WHO for 2030, we need to value them and place more importance on supporting their needs. By emphasising self-care and providing appropriate resources to support this, we can help reduce turnover, increase the quality of patient care and improve the overall welfare of one of the most valuable workforces in our society.
For more information on the well-being of Irish healthcare workers, feel free to get in touch with Ryan O’Flaherty.
+353 1 901 5271