A demoralised NHS hero says he is quitting the frontline after 30 years – as worrying new figures show healthcare workers are leaving in their droves.
Nearly 14,000 nurses left their roles between April and September, a study has found, while a separate survey reports that more than 90 per cent of staff are worried about burnout.
Ged Swinton, who has worked on the frontline for three decades, says he is not surprised.
The toll of working through the pandemic, concerns over understaffing and years of below-inflation pay awards – leaving many staff dependent on food banks – have made the sector “untenable” for many, he said.
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Mr Swinton, 50, a senior staff nurse on the south coast, told The Mirror: “I’ve been with the NHS for 30 years, I’m good at what I do, I never thought I’d walk away from the frontline but for my own mental health and my own principals I need to step back.
“It’s not sustainable. The reason I’m moving away from a frontline position is that it’s untenable, I can’t deliver the care I want to deliver.
“We’ve done everything in our power to continue to provide services to patients, but that comes at a cost. It might not cost money, but it does come at a big cost to nursing staff.
“Nurses are so demoralised that they’re looking for work elsewhere, and there are plenty of other industries to choose from.”
Will Dax/Solent News)
He said that cracks were visible long before the pandemic, but the trauma of the past 21 months have exacerbated these.
At the start of the pandemic Mr Swinton said he would finish his shifts fearful that his job meant he would pass the virus to his wife and children when he got home.
He said: “Working in ITU at the start of the pandemic was terrifying. I was seeing people of my age in beds dying.
“The mortality rate was about one in two at the time, and we were being told to just stay in our PPE, and some of the PPE was poor quality.
“We’ve lost a couple of colleagues where I work, a colleague I was looking after survived but he very nearly didn’t. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time, it was a new disease and they were susceptible.”
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Dedicated staff have been working extra shifts in full protective gear for nearly two years – and are now paying the price, he said.
“People aren’t getting breaks, they’re pressured into doing additional shifts, they know how horrible it is when you’re short-staffed,” he said.
“People talk about the first wave, the second wave and the third wave, but for us it’s al part of the same wave.
“Until 2019 we weren’t swimming, we were drowning, but when the pandemic kicked in everyone gives a bit more but that comes at at an intense cost.
“I’ve seen some people fall off their perch because they’re burned out. The mental health pressures of that are huge.”
He said that figures showing increasing numbers leaving the profession are not unexpected.
“I’m not surprised,” he stated. “I’ll be surprised if the next year isn’t similar, Covid has demonstrated to nurses what’s important in life, the work-life balance is poor.
“We should be able to afford to go on holiday and take a break, we should be able to live reasonably well given the responsibility and the workload we have.
“I know nurses whose mental health has been so badly damaged by their workload and whether they can provide for their families.
“It’s horrendous. It’s not the fault of the local employers, it’s a fault further up the food chain.”
Colin Lane/Liverpool Echo)
Despite the heroism they show every day of their career, many nurses struggle to make ends meet and support their families.
Mr Swinton said: “If a significant pay award had been made that would have allowed me to understand that the government is listening to nurses, but they’re just not interested.
“Even with the three per cent pay award inflation has outstripped that, we’re driving nurses into poverty.
“I know colleagues who have had to use foodbanks, there are full time professions who can’t afford to feed their families.
“It doesn’t reflect their skills and how nursing has changed.”
Mr Swinton is moving away from the frontline to a more strategic role in healthcare – a move he never expected to make.
Latest figures from the Nursing & Midwifery Council reveal that 13,945 nurses left between April and September – the highest for that period since 2017.
However there was an overall rise in the number of nurses registered in this period, with 744,929 on the council’s register in the middle of this year.
The NMC said a big driver of growth was more than 10,600 professionals from outside Europe joining the register between April and September.
Royal College of Nursing General Secretary and Chief Executive Pat Cullen said: “Health and care services are experiencing unsustainable pressures and this report suggests the workforce crisis is getting worse. Even though the register is growing, the number of nurses leaving it has reached its highest point, in this time period, in almost five years.
“We have warned that many experienced nurses reaching the end of their careers, who stayed in post to assist their colleagues and patients in the pandemic, would leave. Employers will now struggle to replace them when they are needed most.
“Ministers’ ill thought-through strategy of disproportionately relying on nurses from overseas because we aren’t keeping our experienced nurses, or growing enough of our own, isn’t good enough.
“This is why we urgently need to see a long term, fully funded, health and care workforce plan in each country of the UK that demonstrates how many registered nurses we’ll need now, and for decades to come.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.