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Two-year project sheds light on disillusion among frontline workers with government over Covid-19 rule-breaking

​A new study by Cardiff Metropolitan University together with the University of Limerick has shone a light on the vital role that social solidarity plays in the welfare of frontline workers in the UK and Republic of Ireland, and how that welfare has been harmed by the actions of government figures during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The ‘CV19 Heroes Project’, established in March 2020 to monitor the welfare of frontline workers, reveals how a large number of participants apportion the breakdown in solidarity surrounding measures brought in to counter Covid-19 to government figures breaking their own rules, with 49% of respondents working in health and social care currently thinking of leaving their roles.

The project recruited over 1700 participants from multiple sectors (including health and social care, retail, civil defence and education), tracking a variety of psychological welfare markers (wellbeing, post-traumatic stress, burnout, anxiety, physical health) on a six-monthly basis.

Participants commented that the guidance from Westminster was often confusing and unclear. Moreover, there were frequent comments concerning the central UK government not leading by example, and how this was having a devastating impact on public confidence and behaviour, in turn creating worsening working conditions for them in the form of non-compliance, escalating infection rates and sometimes abuse from the public.

One social worker who took part commented: “Every day my team ask me why do they bother? Why do they continue to put their lives on the line with no thanks, and to find out that the government have breached so many of their own Covid laws?”

“The lack of compassion and understanding from this government is hard to ignore,” commented a hospital nurse who participated, adding: “They are treating the British people and the NHS as if they are disposable, and it is beginning to feel deliberate.”

Evidence from the project, led by two chartered psychologists specialising in areas associated with occupational health and wellbeing, has already been presented to the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus (March & August 2021) as well as the People’s Covid Inquiry (June 2021).

In written evidence formally submitted to the latter, one participant stated: “In the first wave, it showed how the population were standing together, and the generosity given to those who needed it was incredible. The NHS and frontline workers were thought of by all. However, after the government showed the UK how not to stick to the rules, the public started to have enough of the isolation, and that’s where it all changed.”

When asked about the alleged party/parties held at 10 Downing Street during the winter lockdown of 2020, participants described feeling “disgusted,” “angered,” “betrayed” and “disappointed, but not surprised.”

One participant commented: “When I think of what my team and I were doing, of the patients we tried to save, of our families we did not see, I feel so bitter and angry that they could even contemplate a party, let alone actually have one.”

“What is abundantly clear is that workers know leadership has been a pivotal point in this lack of solidarity,” says Dr Rachel Sumner of Cardiff Metropolitan University, who led the project together with research partner Dr Elaine Kinsella of the University of Limerick, “There is a feeling among participants that they can deal with almost anything the pandemic has had to throw at them, but they just have not been able to cope when it comes to the government undermining its own messages of protecting the NHS and other key workers,” adds Dr Sumner.“For them, this has meant they are losing the meaning in what they do, and this loss of meaning seems to be having a catastrophic impact on their mental health and subsequently their physical health.

“This situation could have been largely avoided. Leadership can lead with messages of support and solidarity, but they also need to live up to those sentiments. In many cases leadership has given these messages, only to subsequently undermine them by contravening their own laws.”

The link to the ‘CV19 Heroes Project’ is here: www.cv19heroes.com

The link to the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus is here: https://committees.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/42589/pdf/

For written evidence to the People’s Covid Inquiry, the link is here: https://osf.io/5pd7t/