According to findings from a survey study published in the journal Cancer, the COVID-19 pandemic significantly affected the pediatric oncology workforce, resulting in physical, psychological, and financial burdens. Elizabeth Sniderman, MSN, APRN, et al, sought to characterize the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on pediatric oncology healthcare providers (HCPs) across the globe.
The researchers evaluated responses to a 60-item survey from 311 clinicians caring for children with cancer. The clinicians represented 213 institutions from 79 countries. The 60-item survey concentrated on adjustments to clinical care, resources, and effects on clinicians. The researchers also obtained information from a diverse subgroup of 16 institutions for 19 multidisciplinary focus groups that reviewed teamwork, communications, and adjustments to the delivery of care.
The researchers found that 51% of institutions reported that diminished clinical staff availability had a major impact. Reported staffing modifications included reduced provider availability (66% of institutions), role/responsibility changes, and transfer outside of the specialty. The survey discovered physical impacts of the pandemic as well, including frequent COVID-19 illness. Eight percent of respondents reported deaths among healthcare providers at their institutions, and 50% of providers did not have the essential personal protective equipment.
Healthcare providers also recounted experiencing psychological and financial difficulties during the pandemic. The pandemic appeared to disproportionately affect nurses versus other healthcare providers. The impacts reported covered all hospital resource levels, with staffing changes more prevalent in countries with higher COVID-19 incidence (P <.001) and mortality rate (P = .004).
Focus group participants reported that negative impacts of the pandemic were corrected via expanded teamwork, communication, contribution to tasks outside providers' normal responsibilities, policies designed to optimize safety, and a sense of accomplishment at having contributed to the effort.
The authors concluded that COVID-19 had a profound impact on the pediatric oncology workforce, generating challenging modifications to staffing and resulting in physical, psychological, and financial distress. Despite these trials, pediatric oncology HCPs came together to continue to provide high-quality care.
Lorena V. Baroni, MD, of the Hematology/Oncology Service at Garrahan Pediatrics Hospital in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Eric Bouffet, MD, of the Division of Hematology/Oncology at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, wrote in a related editorial, "This survey is unique, as it captures the global impact of the pandemic in the context of a discipline, i.e., pediatric hematology/oncology. Conducting a similar study would be challenging among health care providers in the adult cancer population. The findings suggest that pediatric oncology often becomes a low priority in the face of an acute health care crisis."
Drs. Baroni and Bouffet also wrote, "This survey took place at a relatively early stage of the pandemic, and a follow-up study would certainly provide a different insight. However, the results presented in this study should not be taken lightly. They reflect a serious risk that can ultimately affect the care of children and compromise the success of their treatment. In this context, one cannot emphasize enough the importance of pediatric cancer organizations in their advocacy role."
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