Concern over Cape healthcare workers facing burnout amid Covid-19 fight
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CAPE TOWN – Covid-19 burnout among the City’s health-care workers is highly widespread and made worse by the fear of infection, according to City spokesperson Priya Reddy.
This comes as the provincial department of health said that there was a significant prevalence of burnout among its health-care workers, in particular, doctors, nurses and support staff, a year after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in the Western Cape.
Reddy said: “Burnout is highly prevalent as a result of exposure to trauma, loss, grief and compassion fatigue, and is exacerbated by the high levels of anxiety for fear of contracting the virus.”
However, she said: “The presence of Covid-19 has not diverted health-care workers from their primary responsibilities, thus the pandemic added additional levels of care and caution to the way they work and required a major adjustment.”
To mitigate the situation the City has made available a number of employee assistance programmes (EAP) and wellness interventions to all employees, including City health-care workers and those supporting them in their different functions.
Reddy said these include: “Provision of 24/7, 365 days a year counselling and support by an EAP external service provider, debriefing sessions on Covid-19 and other trauma and counselling and support on the impact of Covid-19.”
The City also provides burnout, compassion fatigue and resilience workshops and makes proactive interventions to deal with stress and anxiety.
According to the provincial health department, between October and December last year, 2 832 employees accessed the employee health and wellness programme in either individual or group format.
During that time, the top five problems presented were work related problems, trauma, Covid-19 related challenges, family challenges and relationships issues.
Provincial health department spokesperson Mark van der Heever said the pandemic had placed the health system and staff under immense pressure.
During his review of a year of the pandemic in the province, provincial department of health head Dr Keith Cloete said: “The department recognised the immense impact the pandemic has had on its staff and has initiated intentional healing and grieving sessions with our front-line workers and managers.
“The department also recognised the need for staff to rest and recuperate, and in between the two waves we encouraged and granted staff to take leave so they can spend some time with family members,” Cloete said.
South African Society of Psychiatrists (Sasop) board member Renata Schoeman said burnout was considered an occupational phenomenon by the WHO.
Schoeman said: “Because people on the verge of burnout feel the need to keep going even though they are exhausted and in a state of relentless overwork, by the time they consult a health professional, burnout has often already become depression or anxiety disorder.”
She said: “Avoiding burnout is a classic case where prevention is better than cure, and lifestyle is the most effective preventative strategy. Improving your emotional and mental fitness, as well as physical fitness, helps to build resilience which means you can handle stress better and cope with setbacks.”
According to Schoeman the symptoms of burnout include chronic fatigue and tiredness along with difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, irritation, anxiety, emotional distress, feeling emotionally drained, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, frustration, despair and feelings that life is not worth living.