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Title: The experiences of primary health care nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia
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  • Elizabeth Halcomb,
  • Susan McInnes,
  • Anna Williams,
  • Christine Ashley,
  • Sharon James,
  • Ritin Fernandez,
  • Catherine Stephen,
  • Kaara Ray B. Calma
Elizabeth Halcomb
University of Wollongong
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Susan McInnes
University of Wollongong
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Anna Williams
University of Notre Dame Australia
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Christine Ashley
University of Wollongong
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Sharon James
University of Wollongong
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Ritin Fernandez
University of Wollongong
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Catherine Stephen
University of Wollongong
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Kaara Ray B. Calma
University of Wollongong
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Abstract

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 health care 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 Method: Nurses employed in primary health care across Australia were invited to participate in a cross-sectional online survey through social media and professional organisations. The survey tool was comprised of demographics, questions about the nurses’ employment and work role and access to personal protective equipment.
Findings: Of the 637 responses received, nearly half (43.7%) reported a decrease in hours, 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 health care nurses experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study findings have highlighted a concerning level of insecurity around primary health care 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 health care nursing workforce is vital to ensure staff retention and care quality. Ensuring that the community remain healthy and supported at home is vital to both reduce the burden on the health system and reduce secondary mortality.