Nurses and midwives ‘could quit’ en masse as burnout from Covid-19 pandemic becomes overwhelming

Nurses and midwives ‘could quit’ en masse as burnout from Covid-19 pandemic becomes overwhelming

Cork-based INMO second vice president Kathryn Courtney said she has spoken to a number of frontline workers planning to leave the profession after Covid-19 is finally eradicated.

A Marymount nurse has highlighted concerns that some nurses and midwives are considering leaving the frontline to pursue other careers amid grave concern for their mental health.

Cork-based INMO second vice president Kathryn Courtney said she has spoken to a number of frontline workers planning to leave the profession after Covid-19 is finally eradicated.

She said that the Government needs to recognise the struggles of an exhausted workforce and implement strategies to prevent devastating effects on people’s emotional wellbeing. Ms Courtney referenced what the International Council of Nurses described as “the mass traumatisation of nurses” due to Covid-19.

She said that many nurses and midwives are opting to remain in the profession only until the pandemic ends. “Compassionate fatigue is one of the main causes of burnout among nurses and I think that is quite high at the moment,” she said.

“The health service is dependent on the goodwill of nurses and midwives. They know that we won’t walk away. If there is something that needs to be done we will go and do it no matter what time our shift ended at.

“If there were adequate staffing levels that risk of burnout out might be reduced.”

According to Ms Courtney, burnout is playing a huge part in people’s decision to leave.

“Nurses are the ones who are holding a dying patient when their loved one isn’t able to be there. They are more fatigued and exhausted than they ever have been. That says a lot because nurses have always given everything to the job. Given that we have an overly exhausted workforce I definitely think that people will strongly consider their options when the pandemic is finally over.

“A number of people are looking at reducing their hours or upskilling but unfortunately, there will be a lot of people entering into different professions. Back in August the INMO carried out a survey which found 60% were considering leaving the profession. If this did materialise, our entire health system would collapse.”

Ms Courtney warned that nurses and other frontline staff will need continued support long after the pandemic. “In a job like this, you don’t stop to think about what you are doing or how it is affecting you. Traditionally, it’s all about keeping your focus on what’s best for the patient. 

"In a situation like this, you forget about yourself. Nurses are just doing their job but the consequences of being in a pandemic for a year will take their toll.

“Burnout is high in nurses is high anyway but compassionate fatigue is one of the main causes of burnout and we are seeing a lot of that at the moment.”

She urged the Government to step up. “People need to be compensated like in so many other countries. That’s under review at the moment, but it would go a long way in helping nurses recognise the value of their work. I do think having the strategies in place like state-funded mental health services will help a lot.”

She said that some are too exhausted to seek help outside of working hours.

“The International Council of Nurses has described this as the mass traumatisation of nurses. We have persistently high workloads as well as high patient dependency and mortality. There is also a lot of fear.

“The anxieties leading to burnout out have always been there. However, now it has been completely exacerbated by the pandemic. Nurses and midwives are managing this in their own way. Many are exhausted on their time off and don’t have the emotional energy to source support.”

The INMO second vice president also described how pressures are mounting for healthcare workers supporting families caring for loved ones at home. Much of this work, she said, now has to be done through technology.

“Patients are saying that if they go into hospital they may not come out again. They would rather take their chances at home with their family. Even though it’s unfounded people are afraid of going into acute services as a result of the high incidence.

“They’ll remain at home. Even if they require investigations they have decided it’s not worth it.”

Ms Courtney reiterated the importance of staying safe during the pandemic to ease the pressure on nurses.

“As healthcare workers, it’s very difficult for us to see people not wearing masks.

“We are working with Covid directly and can see the effect it has on people. It’s important that the numbers go down as the vaccinations are being rolled out so that society can open up and we can start seeing our friends and family again.”

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