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Pandemic could speed up exodus of newly qualified nurses, say experts


he annual exodus of new nurses from the NHS could be worsened by the pandemic and the emotional trauma of dealing with the families of Covid victims, experts warned today.

More than a quarter of 190 newly-qualified nurses at Barts Health NHS Trust who took part in research said they had suffered symptoms of post-traumatic stress after the pressures of the first wave of coronavirus.

A follow-up study funded by Barts Charity has been launched to investigate the lasting effects of Covid on nurses early in their career and to improve retention. Between 30 to 60 per cent of nurses quit their first NHS job in the 12 months after completing their student training.

Project lead Judy Brook, from the School of Health Science at City, University of London, said: “Many new nurses leave after a short while. We want to be able to support them to stay and contribute topatient care in the NHS.

“This project will help us to understand their experience during the pandemic andallow us to make recommendations for psychological support services that can beimplemented in East London and beyond.”

She told the Standard there was the potential for the pandemic to increase the number leaving the NHS early in their career.

“That first year after qualification is the time when there is the largest turnover,” she said. “If early-career nurses are exposed to added pressure, which all nurses are at the moment, then it makes sense that that would influence their decision-making. I think they are under a lot more stress and pressure than they would have been if we weren’t in a pandemic.”

Nurses have told researchers that many found restrictions on families visiting covid patients “very stressful”. Long hours and the unprecedented demands from the pandemic were also factors.

Newly-qualified nurse Shataj Choudhury, who joined Barts Health in January last year, said: “Working in an acute admissions ward meant my colleagues and I witnessed first-hand the sudden influx of covid patients coming in. Immediately I noticed the difference from caring for only a handful of unwell patients to bays full of sickly people.

“There was a fear of running out of PPE and also the guilt of not being able to execute our nursing role as best as we could – it is a lot harder to display compassionate care to someone you cannot get too close to.

“Witnessing the death of individuals is something a nurse grows accustomed to, both while as a student and also when you are qualified, however this was different as the death count increased suddenly, leaving us unprepared.”

The new study will look deeper into the impact of covid and how NHS trusts across the country can better support nurses.

Barts Charity chief executive Fiona Miller Smith said: “We hope the funding will lead to interventions which help nurses across the NHS improve their wellbeing and resilience, and continue their nursing careers, providing fantastic care through the pandemic and beyond.”

The number of nurses in the NHS in London increased by 1,521 on last year to 54,869, and the number of doctors rose by 1,255 to 26,404, according to the latest figures up until the end of October.

But the Royal College of Nursing says thousands of posts remain vacant and the Government is some distance from recruiting the 100,000 more nurses the NHS needs in England in the next decade.

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