Hospital nurse ‘broken’ by frontline work warns of mass departure of NHS staff

Mel Kerr, a nurse in the East Midlands, said more needs to be done to support staff working during the health crisis.

Nurse Mel Kerr
Nurse Mel Kerr

A hospital nurse “left broken” by working on the front line has warned that the NHS will see a mass departure of staff if more is not done to support them during the pandemic.

Mel Kerr has been working in the NHS for five years and said approximately one in nine staff within her trust is off sick, both with Covid and non-Covid-related illness, including stress, depression and anxiety.

The 26-year-old told the PA news agency: “I’m not in a good frame of mind at the moment and yesterday I was honestly at a point where I could have just walked away. But that’s not me as a person and I would never do that for my patients.

“As nurses, we do put up the facade that we are OK but yesterday I didn’t even have the energy to say I am OK because I am not.”

She warned that the NHS will lose “a lot of nurses” in the next five years due to retirement but said there could also be an increase in nurses choosing to retire early 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.”

It came as the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) said it is “extremely concerned” about the mental health of frontline doctors.

In a poll of RCP members, 19% said they have sought informal mental health support during the pandemic, while 10% said they have sought 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.”

Key issues for staff are pay increases and safe staffing ratios.

Working in the East Midlands, and a branch chairwoman for the Royal College of Nursing, Miss Kerr has been redeployed during the pandemic to help fit-testing for members of staff to use the new personal protective equipment (PPE).

She said: “Mondays are always busy as we catch up from weekend work, but this week was just another level of busy.

“I got into the office at five to eight and there were already two people outside the office door wanting to ask about fit-testing. By the time I sat down at my desk to start any of the work I had planned, it was half four.

“This pandemic has just thrown a whole bunch of complications, stresses and pressures on staff that are already broken.”

Families have been “wiped out overnight” by the virus, she added.

Coronavirus – Tue Jan 19, 2021
Ambulance staff deliver a patient to hospital (Liam McBurney/PA)

“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 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 these people “just don’t get it”.

Miss Kerr said: “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.”

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