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‘Trauma could lead to nursing mass exodus’



As many as 80% of nurses are reporting psychological distress because of the Covid crisis in some countries, according to data released this week, prompting fears that many may quit the profession.

The International Council of Nurses (ICN) has called on governments to ‘take action now’ – or risk a ‘mass exodus’ from the nursing profession.

It also fears a ‘wave of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety, the scale of which we cannot yet imagine’.  

The King’s College London also released results of a study this week of 709 healthcare workers across nine intensive care units (ICUs) in England, showing 45% met the threshold for probable ‘clinical significance’. This included severe depression (6%), PTSD (40%), severe anxiety (11%) or problem drinking (7%).

One in eight respondents (13%) to King’s College report, done online in June and July last year, reported frequent thoughts of being better off dead, or of hurting themselves in the past two weeks.

The ICN data was based on a survey of 130-plus member national nurses associations (NNAs) – of which the RCN is no longer a part – found nurses are facing ‘ever-increasing workloads, continued abuse and protests by anti vaccinators’ and managing increased deaths.

The global report, which also looked at studies from NNAs, highlighted that 80% of Spanish nurses reported symptoms of anxiety and increasing burnout, while in Australia 61% of healthcare workers reported burnout and 28% report depression.  

In the United States, ICN data showed 51% of nurses felt ‘overwhelmed’, while a survey from Mental Health America found 93% of healthcare workers were experiencing stress. 

In addition, the Japanese Nursing Association showed said 15% of hospitals across Japan had nurses resigning, while 20% of nurses reported experiencing discrimination or prejudice during the first wave. 

ICN CEO Howard Catton warned that if 10% to 15% of nurses quit because of trauma from Covid-19, the global nursing shortfall could reach 14 million by 2030 – equivalent to half the current workforce.  

He said: ‘Such a shortfall would impact all healthcare services in the post-Covid-19 era to such an extent that I would argue the health of the nursing workforce could be greatest determinant of the health of the world’s population over the next decade.’ 

The world is already short of six million nurses, with another four million due to reach retirement age in the next ten years, he added. 

Lead author of the King’s College London study Professor Neil Greenberg, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, said: ‘Our results show a substantial burden of mental health symptoms being reported by ICU staff towards the end of the first wave in July 2020.

‘The severity of symptoms we identified are highly likely to impair some ICU staff’s ability to provide high quality care as well as negatively impacting on their quality of life.’ 

ICN data from 31 December 2020 also shows that the number of nurses confirmed to have died from Covid-19 deaths has hit 2,262. But this covers just 59 of the world’s 195 countries and is likely to be a ‘severe underestimation’ in the absence of a global surveillance system. 

In September last year, the ICN calculated that healthcare workers accounted for around of a tenth of infections in countries where data was available

The RCN said in October it will consult its members on whether to rejoin the ICN, after members voted to discontinue mebership in 2013.

Nursing in Practice last year highlighted the toll the pandemic was having on the mental health of nurses.