A lack of safety equipment was the major concern of nurses working in the primary health care sector, according to new research.

An online survey of 637 primary health care nurses, conducted by University of Wollongong School of Nursing and Notre Dame University Sydney, revealed respondents were most worried about the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE). 

“Significant access (to PPE) issues are impacting worldwide,” UOW Primary Health Care Nursing professor Dr Elizabeth Halcomb said.

“In our study, only around a quarter of respondents always had sufficient P2/N95 masks and gowns and only 39.7% always had sufficient surgical masks.” 

Prof. Halcomb said job security was a major concern for primary health care nurses – those who work outside of hospitals, such general practice, aged and community care.

Prof. Halcomb said: “43.7% of respondents reported a decrease in hours, threatened or loss of employment.” 

“It is likely that this is due to the reduced face to face consultations and delay in the government funding telehealth by nurses that has caused financial challenges for general practice”. 

UOW nursing student and aged carer Jonah Potts said COVID-19 had affected all aspects of his employment. 

“In my agency job, where you do shifts in different facilities, I have experienced a decrease in shifts,” he said. 

“This is because of the high risk we pose as carriers from facility to facility. I am working much less than before, and it’s rather concerning”. 

Mr Potts said his PPE routine has changed entirely and feels the pressure of keeping his family safe from exposure. 

“At the community home, if there are any patients with possible signs, we must keep the patient in their room and only enter once in the correct PPE,” he said.

“This means an apron, mask, glasses, gloves and shoe covers. Then I need to correctly remove it all before leaving. Follow the five steps of hand hygiene and disinfect everything. 

“I feel lucky though, I know a lot of other nurses did not have correct PPE, especially masks for weeks…that is a serious problem.” 

Prof. Halcomb said nurses have an important role in promoting access to healthcare both in and outside the hospital to reduce risks of exposure. 

“The health and well-being of our health professionals, including nurses, needs to be carefully managed,” she said. 

“As the pandemic continues, we need to ensure that they are well supported so they can continue to look after our community and its health needs.” 

If you are a nurse seeking support during this time, or know someone who is, please contact the Australia Nursing and Midwifery Federation or the Australia Primary Health Care Nurses Association