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Nurses, midwives carrying heavy symptom burden

NSW nurses and midwives have reported a host of health symptoms and diseases in a recent survey, although more than half rated their current health as very good or excellent.

Among the 5000 workers surveyed in the study from the University of Technology, Sydney, nearly two-thirds had at least one chronic illness, almost half suffered from back pain and almost half described themselves as severely tired.

Study lead and professor of nursing at UTS Lin Perry said severe tiredness was reported as occurring 'sometimes' to 'very often' within the last 12 months by 44 per cent of respondents, with 40 per cent reporting back pain, stiff joints and headaches.

And when it came to certain health diagnoses, those surveyed fared worse than the Australian population.

“Mental health diagnoses were much higher than the Australian population. We had over a quarter who were reporting mental health diagnoses,” Perry said. “Nearly 1 in 5 with a diagnosis of arthritis. Fifteen per cent with diagnoses of asthma. All of this is much higher than the Australian population.

“We have a workforce that works very hard, and that [is borne] out in the low levels of vitality [reported in the survey], in the tiredness, the number and range of symptoms they suffer. There’s a lot of stress and strain that is intrinsic to looking after people and their families, often at what is the worst, most stressful point in their lives.”

The survey was conducted on the back of pilot studies at two Sydney hospitals that Perry said revealed certain things about nurses’ mental and physical health that were potentially concerning.
She said while nearly 65 per cent of respondents rated their health as excellent to very good, which is an important predictor for future health, the group was also reporting quite a high symptom burden.

She added those anonymous studies also showed the extent of nurses’ sensitivity about revealing personal health information. “I had a couple of people text me saying – particularly around mental health and bullying – 'These are my answers to your questions. I’m not going to put it on paper. Don’t try to track this phone number – I’m using a friend’s phone.' ”

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