'Everyone's like zombies': NHS staff ‘reduced to tears’ by Covid shortages

ITV News North of England Reporter Hannah Miller spoke to Rebecca, who has been waiting months for life-changing back surgery but whose appointment has been cancelled.

NHS workers in England have been “reduced to tears” by staff shortages caused by the Omicron variant of coronavirus, the Royal College of Nursing has said.

RCN director for England Patricia Marquis said the government needs to be “honest” with the public about the pressure being put on the health service, adding that patient care is being impacted.

“Many nursing staff are going into work with only half the number of staff that are needed but with still the same number of patients to look after," she said.

“They are being spread thinner and thinner and we are hearing of many being reduced to tears because they are not able to deliver the care to their patients”.

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Ms Marquis called on the government to give an "honest assessment as to why we are not able to consider other restrictions."

The statement comes as many public services resort to emergency plans to mitigate shortages, with some hospital trusts declaring critical incidents, where priority services may be under threat.

Health workers have reported they're starting to see evidence of PTSD and other mental health difficulties among staff, with frontline workers also experiencing "burnout" due to the shortages.

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An A&E nurse said “morale is really low” among staff at his hospital trust in central London.

Mark Boothroyd, 36, said: “Because of the Omicron variant, we had entire wards of nurses call in sick one day… even if you’re one nurse down, that affects the standard of care.”

He added: “There’s just been a real haemorrhage of staff… the government’s been ignoring the warning signs and it’s finally coming to light because things are collapsing.

“Everyone’s like zombies. You go in, you’re just there trying to look after your patients, trying to get through the day and go home, it’s depressing”.

A clinical nurse specialist based in Sheffield also described the difficulties of “high volumes of staff off sick”.

“People are really scared to be doing this again… I just don’t know how everybody’s going to cope,” Donna Hales said.

“It’s really exhausting… nurses will always roll our sleeves up but we are starting to see evidence of PTSD (and) other mental health difficulties”.

The 57-year-old, who has worked in nursing for nearly 40 years, said many NHS workers are also opting to quit due to the stress caused from staff shortages.

“The long-term knock-on effects on an individual’s health can be really profound and people then do choose to walk and change careers because of it”.

Ms Hales added: “There’s no doubt about it in my mind that people are gonna say, ‘I don’t need to do this’”.

A nurse puts on PPE on a ward for Covid patients at King’s College Hospital, London Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

A union representative at an NHS hospital trust in South Yorkshire said staff in their area are experiencing “burnout” due to the lack of personnel.

The NHS worker, who wished to remain anonymous, said the situation is worse “in terms of absences” than in January 2021.

“People are getting their heads down and getting on with the job but there is also a lot of burnout,” they said.

“I worry about the longer-term mental impact of staff having gone through so much pressure for such a long period of time too”.

They also raised concern about plans that will make vaccines mandatory for frontline health and social care workers from April 1.

“The vaccine mandate could make staffing issues worse too, so it’s just one thing on top of another really,” they added.