Exploring staff perspectives on caring for isolated hospitalised patients during the COVID-19 pandemic: a qualitative study

Robin Digby, Ingrid Hopper, Leanne Hughes, Doug McCaskie, Michelle Tuck, Kethly Fallon, Peter Hunter, Tracey Bucknall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


BACKGROUND: Strict isolation of COVID-19 patients to prevent cross infection may inadvertently cause serious adverse outcomes including psychological harm, limitations to care, increased incidence of delirium, deconditioning and reduced quality of life. Previous research exploring the staff perspective of the effect of isolation on patients is limited. The aim of this study is to understand staff perceptions and interpretations of their experiences of the care and treatment of isolated patients and the impact of isolation on patients, families, and staff. METHOD: This qualitative, exploratory study is set in a major metropolitan, quaternary hospital in Melbourne, Australia. Data was collected in focus groups with clinical and non-clinical staff and analysed using content analysis. The hospital ethics committee granted approval. Each participant gave informed verbal consent. RESULTS: Participants included 58 nursing, medical, allied health, and non-clinical staff. Six main themes were identified: 1) Communication challenges during COVID-19; 2) Impact of isolation on family; 3) Challenges to patients' health and safety; 4) Impact on staff; 5) Challenging standards of care; 6) Contextual influences: policy, decision-makers and the environment. CONCLUSION: Isolating patients and restricting visitors resulted in good pandemic management, but staff perceived it came at considerable cost to staff and consumers. Innovative communication technology may facilitate improved connection between all parties. Mental health support is needed for patients, families, and staff. Further research using a co-design model with input from patients, families and staff is recommended to determine appropriate interventions to improve care. Preventing the spread of infection is essential for good pandemic management, but the cost to consumers and staff must be mitigated. Preparation for future pandemics must consider workforce preparedness, adapted models of care and workflow.

Original languageEnglish
Article number208
Number of pages10
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Acute hospital
  • Clinical care
  • Clinical decision-making
  • Communication
  • COVID-19
  • Patient isolation
  • Person-centred care
  • Staff perception

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