A Victorian support service for nurses and midwives experiencing health issues related to mental health or substance use has been given a $350,000 funding boost from the state government to help it cope with an expected increase in demand in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Victorian government delivered the cash injection to the Nursing and Midwifery Health Program Victoria (NMHP) last week as part of a broader effort to support frontline healthcare workers who have been “working around the clock to keep Victoria safe during the pandemic” with access to greater health and wellbeing services.
The NMHPV, a free, independent and confidential nurse-led service for nurses, midwives and students dealing with issues such as anxiety, depression or drug use, will use the funds to expand its telehealth footprint so it can continue to provide screening, assessment, referrals and access to individual and group support sessions as demand likely grows during COVID-19.
NMHPV Chief Executive Officer Glenn Taylor says the service’s team of clinicians continues to provide support to nurses and midwives via telephone while working from home amid the pandemic, with the lack of face-to-face interaction the only drawback.
He says COVID-19 has impacted nurses and midwives in a variety of ways.
“We haven’t had quite the surge that we expected or we were prepared for,” he says.
“However, there’s been weeks where the demand has been higher and there’s been weeks where the demand has been noticeably lower and that’s been reflected in our discussions with health services and their leadership and HR, they’ve been noticing that the demand on them has been the same; it’s fluctuated.
“Some of the key concerns that nurses and midwives have expressed to us have been around fear of contracting the virus, fear of taking the virus home into their families and giving that to them, feeling guilty that there’s not more that they can do, feeling concerned about what their job’s going to look like when this is all over, will they have the adequate skills to do a new job or will their job be there in fact, and sort of grieving the loss of the regular contact that they may have previously had.”
Mr Taylor says the service has also experienced a small spike in mental health issues and substance use concerns.
“One of the things that’s been quite prevalent is people who have typically thrived on having regular contact in the workplace, for example, who may have had to work from home, have felt quite isolated and some of those people have experienced increased anxiety and lower mood and certainly some people have contacted the service and said that their alcohol and drug intake has increased as a way of coping with the isolation and the anxiety that the whole situation has presented to them.”
Mr Taylor says the NMHPV will use the funding to boost its one-to-one support and expand its reach into regional and rural areas which may not have access to services of this type that are often more readily available in the city.
Initially, the service will carry out stakeholder engagement consultation to find out what nurses and midwives are experiencing and what their specific needs are in order to get through COVID-19.
One of the ideas in the pipeline involves developing tailored webinars and telehealth programs focusing on issues currently affecting nurses and midwives.
Mr Taylor suggests the service will have the capacity to begin fielding increased calls for support from as early as next week.
“It [the funding] will give us an opportunity to increase our staffing profile to some degree,” he explains.
“We’ve got a very dedicated group of clinicians and we have others in the field who have expressed interest in working with us over time but funding hasn’t previously allowed that to happen. So we’re looking at this as an opportunity to potentially get a couple of new part-timers on board to help deliver this service response.”
Mr Taylor says the funding will enable more nurses and midwives to receive support from the service, which is designed and delivered by nurses.
“We were absolutely thrilled with the announcement and very satisfied and humbled to receive this money. We see it as recognition of the work that we’ve done over the last 14 years and it’s acknowledgement that the organisation and the services it’s provided over that time does make a difference.”
Mr Taylor says it is difficult to predict the toll on nurses and midwives navigating COVID-19 but suggested demand for the support service was likely to grow as social distancing measures and restrictions ease and Australians return to a ‘new normal’.
“It’s difficult to know exactly what to expect but history tells us that in previous challenges our nurses and midwives have faced, and our society has faced, once things have settled down and returned to normal people are confronted with the realisation that things aren’t the same as they used to be.
“That can be a trigger point for people to recognise that their lives have changed somewhat and that they might need to reach out for help because some of the concerns around their future employment or around their personal mental health and wellbeing has changed as a result of this extraordinary time.”
Mr Taylor’s message to nurses and midwives experiencing health issues related to their mental health or substance use concerns during COVID-19 is simple – it’s okay to reach out for help.
“It’s completely okay to feel unsettled, confused or unclear about how they’re feeling,” he says.
“If they’re feeling unsettled or if they’re feeling anxious or if they feel like their mood has changed or lowered or if they’re using alcohol and drugs as a way of coping, that’s not necessarily unusual but it is something that is important to check in about and that whether it be through our service or their doctor or other support services, it’s important that they do touch base with somebody to reach out for support.
“No problem or no concern is really too big or too small and reaching out for help can be a very good way of reducing the risk to their own health and wellbeing, to that of their family and to that of the people that they look after in their day to day work.”
Victorian nurses, midwives and students can access the Nursing and Midwifery Health Program Victoria (NMHPV) by calling (03) 9415 7551 or visiting www.nmhp.org.au for more information.