The impact of COVID-19 on Nurses (ICON) survey: Nurses’ accounts of what would have helped to improve their working lives

Jane Ball*, Sydney Anstee, Keith Couper, Jill Maben, Holly Blake, Janet E Anderson, Daniel Kelly, Ruth Harris, Anna Conolly

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Aims: To use nurses’ descriptions of what would have improved their working lives during the first peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK.
Design: Analysis of free-text responses from a cross-sectional survey of the UK nursing and midwifery workforce.
Methods: Between 2-14 April 2020, 3,299 nurses and midwives completed an online survey, as part of the “Impact of COVID-19 on Nurses” (ICON) study. 2,205 (67%) gave answers to a question asking for the top three things that the government or their employer could do to improve their working lives. Each participants’ response was coded using thematic and content analysis. Multiple response analysis quantified the frequency of different issues and themes and examined variation by employer.
Results: Most (77%) were employed by the National Health Service (77%) and worked at staff or senior staff nurse levels (55%). 5,938 codable responses were generated. Personal protective equipment/staff safety (60.0%), support to workforce (28.6%) and better communication (21.9%) were the most cited themes. Within ‘personal protective equipment’, responses focussed most on available supply. Only 2.8% stated that nothing further could be done. Patterns were similar in both NHS and non-NHS settings.
Conclusions: The analysis provided valuable insight into key changes required to improve the work lives of nurses during a pandemic. Urgent improvements in provision and quality of personal protective equipment were needed for the safety of both workforce and patients.
Impact: Failure to meet nurses needs to be safe at work appears to have damaged morale in this vital workforce. We identified key strategies that, if implemented by the Government and employers, could have improved the working lives of the nursing and midwifery workforce during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and could prevent the pandemic from having a longer term
negative impact on the retention of this vital workforce.
Patient or Public Contribution: No Patient or Public Contribution, due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, urgency of the work and the target population being health and social care staff.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343–357
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Advanced Nursing
Early online date30 Sept 2022
Publication statusPublished - 14 Dec 2022


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