DAUK’s Dr Samantha Batt-Rawden speaks to the Guardian about the current sentiment of NHS workers following the pandemic.
It’s 4am and resus looks like a bomb has hit it. We have had to open almost every piece of kit available to keep the patient in front of us alive. Wearily, I register there’s blood spattered across my shoes.
It’s been a long night, and there’s still another five hours to go.
“What will you do after this?” the nurse asks. I’d love to say I’ll go for a run before crawling into bed. But on night shifts it’s all I can do to eat, sleep, work, repeat.
“No, I mean after intensive care,” they say. “I think I’m going to retrain.”
It’s a conversation I am having more and more. Some days, it seems like all of my colleagues are making exit plans. I can’t blame them, really.
How did things get this bad? In truth, it was years of neglect of both the NHS and its staff. Decisions made under the previous health secretary came home to roost as the pandemic hit. Cost-cutting was a gamble, and ultimately the NHS paid the price. Months later, the UK would end up with one of the worst death rates in the entire world.
The psychological harm of this is barely talked about, but it is palpable every day in the ICU. While some people are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, almost everyone is experiencing some form of moral injury, our own epidemic among healthcare professionals.
There is no doubt that our jobs are hard, but they are made so much harder by things that really should have been fixed a long time ago. These are called the “legacy issues”, well known secondary stressors that exacerbate moral distress.
The fact that politicians stood on the doorsteps of No 10 clapping while treating NHS staff with such contempt has angered even the most mild-mannered of my colleagues.
And it is this deep, impassible feeling of betrayal which has made people feel they have no option but to leave. A mass exodus from the NHS is no longer a case of if, it’s a case of when.
Staff morale will probably never recover fully. But there is a small window of opportunity now that, if lost, will never be regained. If we don’t start caring about our staff now, there will be no one left to care for our patients.