The NHS staff forced to quit by the pressures of the Covid pandemic

  • Video report from ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan

The pressures of the Covid pandemic are forcing NHS workers out of the profession a report has found, with one former nurse telling ITV News the results would have been "catastrophic" had she not left.

Ronke Olademije left the NHS last year, after more than 15 years of nursing.

The pressure of the job - made worse during coronavirus - coupled with a lack of support, and not enough staffing forced her to leave the job she loved.

On top of that, she was suffering from anxiety and was trying to care for her daughter who was experiencing mental health issues.

"If I had carried on I feared [...] I don't know what I would have done but definitely I was breaking down. How bad it would get, I wouldn't know, if I hadn't stopped.

"I reckon it would have been catastrophic."

Leaving the profession was no easy decision.

"Work got extremely busy, like it did for every nurse and every care worker in the whole country."

"Personally, I took on too much in terms of trying to support my job, my community - with the Covid response, doing a lot of work with the Black community - then family-wise, I got in a very dark place."

Ronke says she sought help in the form of mental health support but more needed to be done.

And she is not alone in her experience.

A new report by the IPPR think tank reveals 330,000 healthcare workers -  including 100,000 nurses and 8,000 midwives - were "more likely" to leave NHS in England following a year of pandemic pressure.

Poling by think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and YouGov found as many as one in four medics were questioning their role in the organisation as a result of Covid.

The strain of the pandemic has hit the mental health of NHS workers too.

Two thirds surveyed reported being mentally exhausted on at least a weekly basis, with 23% turning to alcohol and/or drugs to deal with the stress.

Rosie Doyle has worked as a healthcare assistant across all areas of the hospital during the pandemic. Fitting in her shifts around training to be an occupational therapist, she's often called in at short notice owing to staff shortages.

She told ITV News she loves working for the NHS, and says it's a privilege, but says she can't see herself working in the profession forever "and that's really sad".

"It has been the toughest year. It has tested me to the point where - there's been shifts where I can't see myself doing anything else and knowing that this is exactly where I'm supposed to be.

"But then there's also been shifts where I've thought 'there is absolutely no way I can do this for another 30 years'."

"It's hard to put into words", the pressure staff are facing, she says, but stresses the situation was the same pre-pandemic.

"It wasn't talked about the same way, but I was still working shifts where I felt like I had more patients that I could care for properly and ward staffing that we knew was unsafe, that we would vocalise unsafe, and that we knew would be accepted as unsafe.

"It's hard not to get hopeful that it might change - but it's difficult to believe that it will change."

The uncertainty is a feeling shared by ICU matron Lucy Jenkins.

Her ward is finally free of Covid-19 patients for the first time in months, but the impact on her staff remains - and she says she feels responsible for their emotional wellbeing.

"I feel different every day. I veer between feeling incredibly sad, I feel intermittently angry, I feel resentful sometimes," she told ITV News.

"I feel incredibly responsible for how my staff feel."

Dr Parth Patel, an NHS doctor and one of the author's of Tuesday's IPPR report, says staff shortages were already an issue pre-pandemic.

He described the one in four figure NHS England staff "more likely" to leave because of the pandemic as a "shocking, shocking number".

Dr Patel said even if a fraction of the number who said they were more likely to leave actually leave, it would "severely compound" existing shortages.

He said the government is "taking a risky bet tolerating such high levels of dissatisfaction among the NHS workforce".

NHS England responded to the IPPR report with figures of their own on staff wellbeing.

In "the biggest staff survey in the world and six hundred times bigger than IPPRs survey", it said staff satisfaction with flexible working opportunities had steadily increased since 2016.

NHS England also said fewer staff are considering leaving the NHS (18.2%) in 2020 compared to the year before (19.6%).

It also pointed to an £15 million of investment to expand psychological support available to staff, through mental health and wellbeing hubs.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson: "We recognise the pressure this pandemic has put on all health and social care staff and have put £15 million into dedicated staff mental health support and launched a 24/7 helpline.

"There are record numbers of doctors and nurses working in our NHS with nearly 10,900 more nurses and almost 6,600 more doctors than last year.

"We are committed to supporting every one by further boosting recruitment, investing in staff, and backing the NHS with an extra £29 billion in COVID funding over the next year.

"Over one million NHS staff continue to benefit from multi-year pay deals agreed with trade unions, which have delivered a pay rise of over 12% for newly qualified nurses and will increase junior doctors’ pay scales by 8.2%."