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The fifth phase of a UK-wide study exploring the impact of providing health and social care during the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed 59% of this workforce felt their service has been overwhelmed by increased pressures.

The latest phase of the COVID-19 Health and Social Care Workforce Study, led by Ulster University, received 1,737 responses from UK-based health and social care workers. The survey measures mental wellbeing, quality of working life, burnout and ways of coping following the peaks and troughs during the pandemic.

The latest survey looked at the period from May until July 2022, and brings the total participation so far to over 12,000 responses.

The research, delivered in partnership with researchers from Queen’s University Belfast, Bath Spa University and King’s College London, also found:

  • 37% reported a ‘desire to leave’ their occupation;
  • 52% of staff reported sickness absence relating to COVID-19;
  • 73% of staff reported working four hours or more overtime since March 2022 due to persistent staff shortages;
  • Only 7% of respondents felt their service had not been impacted by the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • 72% did not take up support from their employer.

The latest phase of the survey also found nurses and midwives to be the most impacted occupational groups with almost three-fifths (59.4%) feeling overwhelmed by increased pressures as the UK continues to move into the ‘new norm’, with little COVID-19 restrictions in place.

Commenting on these findings, principal investigator of the study, Dr Paula McFadden, Senior Lecturer in Social Work at Ulster University, said:

“It is now critical that employers and policy makers take stock of the developing knowledge base and take an informed approach to workforce support and sustainability to maintain staff wellbeing and retention. This research has found a clear relationship between burnout and intention to leave which threatens the human infrastructure of the health and social care sector. The only way we can protect the workforce is to listen to them and act on the evidence.”

Dr Denise Currie, Senior Lecturer at Queen’s Management School, said:

“The respondents to this survey often gave detailed accounts of the challenges and difficulties they have experienced and are still experiencing in their workplace. Alongside concerning statistics regarding wellbeing, quality of working life and burnout, the study also reveals a rich picture of the impact that current conditions in the health and social care sector are having personally and professionally for health and social care workers.“

Professor Jill Manthorpe, Director of the National Institute for Health and Care Research Policy Research Unit at King’s College London, said:

“This is a ground-breaking study in terms of taking the long view of the impacts of the pandemic on the UK’s health and social care workforce. It shows that the pandemic is casting a very long shadow and that efforts are needed by us all to make sure that the tensions and pressures of recovery do not turn into workforce blame. Not only would this be grossly unfair, but it would also potentially accelerate people’s moves from the sector causing yet further problems.”

Based on the survey results, the project team has developed good practice recommendations under the main themes of changing conditions, connections, communication and work-life balance. The recommendations are applicable on individual, organisational and policy levels to support the health and social care workforce.

Full results and findings relating to the data have been published at: