Cape Town – Health-care workers across the province are facing the prospect of burnout, and hundreds of them have sought help, says the provincial Health Department.
A year into the Covid-19 pandemic, the department says there is a significant prevalence of burnout among health-care workers, in particular doctors, nurses and support staff.
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, trauma, Covid-19-related challenges, family challenges and relationship issues.
Department spokesperson Mark van der Heever said the pandemic had placed the entire health system and particularly staff under immense pressure.
“Feelings of compassion fatigue, burnout, stress, insomnia, anxiety and depression have become increasingly common amongst our employees during the different waves. Coupled with this is that fact that we have lost 122 of our colleagues and loved ones due to Covid-19, Van der Heever said.
“Throughout the pandemic, the department has stayed in touch with staff through regular virtual engagement sessions, spearheaded by the head of department Dr Keith Cloete, and internal communication. The mental well-being of our staff has been and continues to be one of the top priorities for the department.”
During his review of a year of the pandemic in the province, Dr 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 leave, so they could spend some time with family members.”
Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo said: “It has been a period of great loss and heartbreak. Of the 11 319 people who lost their lives to Covid-19 in the province, 122 of those who died were health-care workers, who went bravely to the front line to help save the lives of others.
“The department has provided psychosocial support to health-care workers who have dealt with great trauma during the last year.”
South African Society of Psychiatrists board member Renata Schoeman said the World Health Organization considered burnout an occupational phenomenon.
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.
“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.”
Schoeman says 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.
National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union spokesperson Emilia Maloi said: “The Western Cape Department of Health started implementing danger allowance partially four years ago.
“Our members and workers continue to give their best even when faced with understaffing, lack of psychosocial services, exhaustion and life-threatening situations.”
The Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa has urged the national government to take note of the International Council of Nursing’s recent report concerning mass trauma experienced by the global nursing workforce.
The report provides an insight into how the Covid-19 pandemic has brought mass trauma onto the nursing workforce and also highlights the importance of protecting front-line caregivers.