The COVID-19 pandemic disordered the routine delivery of health care. We explored nurses' experiences of working in COVID and non-COVID facing roles, focusing on staff in the acute sector of one Scottish health board. The study covered the period between April and July 2021, and was conducted through twenty in-depth interviews. Interactions between patients, family members and nurses changed due to inflection control measures. Staff experienced a range of conflicting emotions, e.g. fear of infection and transmission but a strong sense professional duty to contribute to the pandemic effort. Nurses were dissatisfied with the care they provided and experienced moral dilemmas, distress and injury from the emotional labour caused not only by working under the infection control measures, but also by the virulence and uncertainty of this new disease. We draw on earlier works - Goffman's (1967) presentation of self, Hochschild's (1983) work on emotional labour, and Bolton and Boyd's (2003) work furthering emotional labour - to illustrate that the usual rules and routines of interaction between patients, family and staff were abandoned. Nurses were able to mask their distress and injury, but were often unable to effectively deliver the correct emotional response due to infection control measures, such as protective clothing (PPE) and social distancing. The 'backstage' spaces, important for dealing with the emotion of front stage performances, were missing for those in COVID-facing roles. The isolating work, and the removal of spaces for the donning and doffing of PPE, resulted in limited or no opportunity for humour and the enacting of collective care. Their private space offered little reprieve with the constant media attention on infection levels, death and nursing 'heroes'.

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Grant, A., Torrance, N., O'Brien, R., Douglas, F., Baldie, D. & Kennedy, C. 2022, 'No backstage: the relentless emotional management of acute nursing through the COVID-19 pandemic.', Annual conference of the British Sociological Association Medical Sociology Study Group (BSA MedSoc 2022), Lancaster, 14-16 September 2022. https://rgu-repository.worktribe.com/output/1764426

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Last updated: 17 November 2022
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