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OBJECTIVES: It is well evidenced that healthcare professionals working in paediatric critical care experience high levels of burn-out, compassion fatigue and moral distress. This worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. This work examines the nature of challenges to workplace well-being and explores what well-being means to staff. This evidence will inform the development of staff interventions to improve and maintain staff well-being. DESIGN: Qualitative study. SETTING: Paediatric critical care units in the UK. PARTICIPANTS: 30 nurses and allied health professionals took part in online interviews and were asked about well-being and challenges to well-being. Lived experiences of well-being were analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis. RESULTS: Themes generated were as follows: perception of self and identity; relationships and team morale; importance of control and balance and consequences of COVID-19. They focused on the impact of poor well-being on participants' sense of self; the significance of how or whether they feel able to relate well with their team and senior colleagues; the challenges associated with switching off, feeling unable to separate work from home life and the idealised goal of being able to do just that; and lessons learnt from working through the pandemic, in particular associated with redeployment to adult intensive care. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings align closely with the self-determination theory which stipulates autonomy, belonging and competence are required for well-being. Participants' accounts supported existing literature demonstrating the importance of empowering individuals to become self-aware, to be skilled in self-reflection and to be proactive in managing one's own well-being. Change at the individual and staff group level may be possible with relatively low-intensity intervention, but significant change requires systemic shifts towards the genuine prioritisation of staff well-being as a prerequisite for high-quality patient care.

Original publication




Journal article


BMJ Open

Publication Date





health workforce, paediatric intensive & critical care, psychological stress, qualitative research, Humans, COVID-19, Qualitative Research, Female, Allied Health Personnel, Critical Care, Male, Adult, Burnout, Professional, United Kingdom, SARS-CoV-2, Intensive Care Units, Pediatric, Compassion Fatigue, Attitude of Health Personnel, Pandemics