In March 2020 the RCN Foundation commissioned The King’s Fund to evaluate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health and wellbeing of nurses and midwives.
This involved a detailed examination of available evidence, analysis of key data, and interviews with nursing and midwifery staff at all levels across the NHS and social care across the UK. The resulting report, The Courage of Compassion: Supporting Nurses and Midwives to Deliver High-quality Care was published in September 2020.
The report provided a fresh perspective on the mental health and wellbeing of nurses and midwives, concentrating on the efforts needed to change the factors that cause stress, rather than simply dealing with symptoms.
The King’s Fund found that staff stress, absenteeism and turnover in the professions had reached high levels and had been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.
These factors exacerbated longer-term issues including inequality, chronic excessive workload, inadequate working conditions, and staff burnout, particularly for ethnic minority groups.
Evidence showed that many nurses and midwives routinely worked long shifts without proper breaks and with limited access to food and drinks. A high proportion also faced bullying, discrimination and verbal and physical abuse from people in their care.
The report identified compassionate leadership as being of critical importance to the mental health and wellbeing of nursing and midwifery staff. The report was underpinned by the ABC Framework of Core Needs to support an approach to compassionate leadership (West et al, 2020).
Following its publication, the report has become a groundbreaking paper within health and social care. It has received news coverage from media outlets including The Guardian, ITV Good Morning Britain, Sky News, Sky News online, Independent/Press Association and The Times, in addition to bulletins in radio stations across the country.
The King’s Fund held a follow-up webinar in December 2020, sponsored by the Foundation, which was attended by more than 2000 individuals following a record number of registrations.
Work continues to disseminate the approach to compassionate leadership presented in the report. This includes online training programmes and bespoke training programmes at a local level.