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.
“Pressures are coming at staff from all angles, and it is important government is honest with the public about the state the NHS and social care is in at the moment as well as give an honest assessment as to why we are not able to consider other restrictions, either in terms of public health or on what the NHS can actually deliver,” 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.”
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.
An A&E nurse said “morale is really low” among staff at his hospital trust in central London.
Mark Boothroyd, 36, told the PA news agency: “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.
“I’ve had friends (take time) off because they’ve had severe anxiety attacks… a lot of people are just like, ‘I’m knackered, I can’t do this anymore.’
“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.”
“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’.”
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.