COVID-19: the challenges for children's nurses

Social isolation and anxiety about contagion may have psychological effects on children and nurses

Picture of a child wearing a surgical mask
Picture: iStock

Superficially, the international population of children, including those with multiple complex conditions, has to date been largely unaffected by COVID-19.

But the true effect of the pandemic on children and children’s nurses cannot be underestimated. There are many hidden factors that have an impact on children’s lives .

Children’s nurses in the UK, like all our colleagues in adult and midwifery nursing, have risen to the challenge.

How children's nurses have risen to the challenge

You have improved your skills in caring for adult patients and using personal protective equipment (PPE) for sustained periods, identified how to support colleagues, and are creative in supporting families while restricting the number of visitors to hospitals.

Children’s nurses do these things because, like all nurses, we have a duty of care; but like all nurses, we are frightened.

We are afraid of contracting COVID-19 ourselves and of spreading it to our families; we are worried that prolonged use of PPE can lead to exhaustion and dehydration; and we are concerned about social isolation and the ability to provide the highest quality of care.

As time progresses, these anxieties may have a psychological effect on the workforce.

Fear of COVID-19 can make parents and carers apprehensive about attending hospital

COVID-19 has further implications for children's nursing, including for the care for vulnerable children. Children with complex medical conditions will need ongoing support, care and treatment throughout the pandemic.

Similarly, in primary care, safeguarding, immunisation and well-being clinics are still vitally important to parents and their children. Schools also provide safe places for contact, as well as school meals. Meanwhile, children are still developing normal childhood illnesses, such as sepsis, that must be treated.

However, fear of COVID-19 and social distancing may make parents and carers apprehensive about attending hospital.

Children’s nurses are resilient and have transferable skills

Many children’s nurses work alongside colleagues who are parents or carers, and who are juggling home schooling, social distancing and their nursing practice. Many of them may have contracted the virus.  

We know children’s nurses are resilient and have many transferable skills. As COVID-19 ends, social isolation is lifted, and children return to school and colleges, these skills will be required.

Only then will children’s nurses see the psychological effect of COVID-19 on children and on their colleagues.

This could present us with one of the biggest challenges we ever have to face.  

Picture of Carli WhittakerCarli Whittaker, @CarliWhittaker, is consultant editor of Nursing Children and Young People. She is director of clinical skills at the School of Health Sciences, University of Nottingham, a sister in the paediatric intensive care unit at Nottingham Children’s Hospital, and vice president of the Paediatric Intensive Care Society


View our COVID-19 resource centre