The Experiences of Primary Healthcare Nurses During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Australia
Purpose: The COVID-19 pandemic has presented an international health crisis of a scope not seen in our lifetime. While much attention has been paid to health workers in critical care and acute areas, nurses working outside of hospitals are also significantly affected. This study sought to investigate the experience of nurses working in Australian primary healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, it sought to understand the implications on their employment status, role, and access to personal protective equipment. Design and Methods: Nurses employed in primary healthcare across Australia were invited to participate in a cross-sectional online survey through social media and professional organizations. The survey tool was composed of demographics, and of questions about the nurses’ employment, work role, and access to personal protective equipment. Findings: Of the 637 responses received, nearly half (43.7%) reported a decrease in hours and threatened or actual loss of employment. While most respondents felt that they had sufficient knowledge about COVID-19, they expressed concern about work-related risks to themselves and their family. Most respondents described never or only sometimes having sufficient personal protective equipment in their workplace. Just over half of respondents (54.8%) felt well supported by their employer. A third of respondents (34%) perceived that care provided in their workplace was significantly or slightly worse than before the pandemic. Conclusions: This is the first study of primary healthcare nurses’ experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study findings highlighted a concerning level of insecurity around primary healthcare nursing employment, as well as issues with the availability of personal protective equipment for these nurses. The perception that the pandemic has resulted in reduced quality of care needs further exploration to ensure that those with chronic conditions are supported to maintain and promote health. Clinical Relevance: Understanding the implications of COVID-19 on the primary healthcare nursing workforce is vital to ensure staff retention and care quality. Ensuring that the community remains healthy and supported at home is vital to both reduce the burden on the health system and reduce secondary mortality.