Present but malfunctioning: our COVID-19 healthcare

Hospitals are full of sick people and not all of them are patients. More and more staff in hospitals are turning up for work that they are unable to do. They are present, but not working at their best, due to the impact of COVID-19 on their health and well-being. Every week there is another story of a clinician succumbing to COVID-19 either mentally or physically or both.

Employers need to be more proactive in providing support to clinicians.

Up to half the total costs of hospital care can come from workers who are not functioning to their capacity. For example, they often work longer to compensate for the inefficient hours. However, working longer is no solution. Health workers suffering from presenteeism are prone to make more mistakes and are less able to think responsively.

Currently, there is little room to manoeuvre around these problems in our largely inflexible healthcare systems – especially when the acute care needs of COVID-19 are so great.

Telehealth offers an opportunity disrupt our rigid health care ways of working so that providers can bend, not break. Increased flexibility is now essential; not only in service provision, but also in career transitions, accessibility to leave, and work performance. There is very little experience to assist in these areas.

There is also another story behind the clinicians working in the telehealth environment. Without the support of colleagues around us, the conduct of medicine can be an isolating and dissociative experience.

If the history of homeworking is any guide, the participants who suffer the most are women. Not only do they received reduced wages and benefits such as on-site childcare, but also, they are prone to working excessive hours to juggle conflicting demands. We are already seeing these problems arising as the northern hemisphere summer holidays commence and summer holiday activities for children are covidrupted, leaving women health care professionals having to juggle even more.

Not only do employers need to be much more proactive in providing support to clinicians as this time, but also clinical support services need to develop new ways of reaching out to help their colleagues.

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