“As soon as the second wave ended, I had nightmares, panic attacks, insomnia, mood swings.
My personal life was falling apart.
I had suicidal thoughts, ”says Joan Pons Laplana, ex-nurse of the NHS, the British health system.
This 46-year-old Catalan, who has lived for two decades near Sheffield, in the north of England, had already burned out before the pandemic.
Intense work pressure during the waves of Covid-19 caused him, like thousands of other NHS workers, to quit to protect his mental health.
Some 33,000 NHS medical staff resigned between July and September 2021, including almost 7,000 in search of a better life balance, according to official statistics.
That's nearly double the last quarter of 2019, just before the pandemic.
The long shifts, the stuffy equipment, the risk of catching the virus and contaminating his wife or children, exhausted the ex-nurse.
Post-traumatic stress syndrome, burnout and depression
“I saw a patient of my age say goodbye on an electronic tablet to his daughter who was the same age as mine. Moments later he was dead. I started dreaming about the patient's eyes at night. My therapist diagnosed me with post-traumatic stress disorder,” he recalls. Joan left one day in the middle of a service meeting and never came back. He now works for a job access program for young handicapped or disadvantaged people.
Akshay Akulwar has not yet resigned from his post as a surgeon in the east of England, but he is wondering about going to work elsewhere: New Zealand, Australia, where the salaries are better, or even his country of origin. , India.
He denounces the accumulation of long shifts.
“Slowly it is impacting your well-being, your availability for your family.
We begin to feel the burn-out, to work less efficiently “, without knowing until when it will be necessary to hold, explains the one who is also spokesperson for the Association of Doctors of the United Kingdom.
“The pandemic has increased the pressure on medical employees”
According to a survey by the Unison union, more than two-thirds of medical workers suffered a burnout during the pandemic and more than half worked beyond their contractual hours. Result: more than half of the sector's employees are looking for a new job. “The NHS was already short of around 100,000 people before the coronavirus”, after a decade of austerity. “The pandemic has increased the pressure on medical workers and many are tired of it,” insists Sara Gorton, a manager at Unison.
Brexit complicates the situation, because those who resign from the NHS, where many foreigners work, are more difficult to replace due to more complex and costly migration procedures.
Faced with the lack of arms aggravated by the Omicron variant, several hundred soldiers were deployed as reinforcements in hospitals and ambulance services.
Elsewhere, wages are rising
Bill Palmer, of the Nuffield Trust think tank, notes a growing trend of resignation since 2016, but which came to a halt during the first year of the pandemic: "People felt they had to hold on and it was more difficult to find a job elsewhere.
Nevertheless, he notes that for six months resignations have started to rise again.
Alex, a psychiatric nurse, has seen his workload increase by 25% during the pandemic.
He decided to retrain and now works for an organization that helps victims of modern slavery and domestic violence.
“I receive equivalent remuneration but I experience less stress and my work is appreciated,” he confides.
In lower-skilled medical professions, meager pay adds to the incentive to leave, while other understaffed sectors, such as distribution, raise salaries.
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