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A NURSE “left broken” by working on the coronavirus front line has warned of a mass exodus of NHS staff if more is not done to support them.
Mel Kerr, an NHS nurse for five years, told the PA news agency that her trust has about one in nine workers off sick with Covid-19 and other illness, including stress, depression and anxiety.
She said that the NHS would lose “a lot of nurses” in the next five years due to retirement, warning that the number choosing to retire early could increase because of the pandemic.
“We already lose between a third and two-thirds of student nurses, who either don’t complete their training or choose to leave the profession within the first year because they have learned they cannot cope,” she said.
“And I feel that will probably increase. It is exacerbated by the fact that this government is not giving us the respect we deserve.
“They’re not recognising the pressures and the responsibility that we face as a profession and as a workforce.”
“This pandemic has just thrown a whole bunch of complications, stresses and pressures on staff that are already broken,” said Ms Kerr, who chairs a Royal College of Nursing (RCN) branch in the East Midlands.
Families have been “wiped out overnight” by the virus, she said.
“It’s heart-wrenching to see these families go through such hardship and then, after a long 13-hour shift, you go home exhausted, physically, mentally and emotionally, and you see people having rallies because they are anti-maskers.”
She said that the trust where she works has been targeted by people filming corridors and car parks, spreading rumours that the NHS is not overwhelmed. She said that they “just don’t get it.”
“I expected death and I expected difficulties and to see people deteriorate.
“It’s sad at any normal time and horrible to see. But I never expected to see six people die in one shift. That doesn’t happen normally.
“We are human, we have emotions too. We are trying our absolute hardest to get through this, but that is only going to happen if the public continues to support us.”
RCN chief executive and general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said: “Nurses know only too well the toll the pressures of working through the pandemic is already taking on their mental health and wellbeing.
“Their resilience continues to be sorely tested, and across the NHS nursing staff say they have little fuel left in the tank.
“It is vital the support is available where and when it is needed and that managers encourage and support staff to seek help.
“There must also be a long-term plan to deliver the care to those who need it after facing unimaginable levels of anxiety and stress.”
The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) also said that it was “extremely concerned” about the mental health of front-line doctors.
A poll of RCP members revealed that one in five had sought informal mental health support, with 10 per cent seeking formal support.
RCP president Professor Andrew Goddard said: “There is no way to dress it up — it is pretty awful at the moment in the world of medicine.”
GMB union national officer Rachel Harrison said: “The government must act now to protect NHS workers.
“For months, they have been publicly recognising the stresses the strains these workers are under battling Covid-19, whilst at the same time doing nothing to help them.
“Chronic understaffing and lack of resources have ultimately impacted the very people running the service.
“Workers are exhausted, burnt out, suffering from anxiety, and yet still they keep going to work so as not to let others down.
“Many NHS and ambulance staff are still waiting for their vaccine and many are still fighting for appropriate levels of PPE.
“GMB reported last week that two-thirds of NHS staff are considering leaving the service. If the government does not act now, they will.”
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