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'I had to be sectioned': the NHS staff broken and burned out by Covid

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In April, when the coronavirus outbreak was at its peak in the UK and tearing through hospitals, junior doctor Rebecca Thornton’s mental health took a turn for the worse and she ended up having to be sectioned.

Even now, three months later, she cannot face going back to her job and thinks it will take her a year to recover from some of the horrors she saw while working on a Covid ward in a deprived area of London.

“It was horrendous,” Thornton recalls. “It’s so harrowing to watch people die, day in, day out. Every time someone passed away, I’d say, ‘This is my fault’. Eventually I stopped eating and sleeping.”

Thornton’s case may sound extreme but her experiences of working through Covid are far from unique. More than 1,000 doctors plan to quit the NHS over the government’s handling of the pandemic, according to a recent survey, with some citing burnout as a cause.

A psychologist offering services to NHS staff throughout the UK, who asked to remain anonymous, has witnessed the toll on staff. “I’ve seen signs of PTSD in some healthcare workers,” she says. “Staff really stood up to the plate and worked incredibly hard. It was a crisis situation that moved very quickly ... After it subsided a little bit, the tiredness became very clear.”

Roisin Fitzsimons, who is head of the Nightingale Academy, which provides a platform to share best practice in nursing and midwifery, and consultant nurse at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS foundation trust, also worries about the looming threat of an uncertain future. “Are our staff prepared? Do they have the resilience to go through this again? That’s the worry and that’s the unknown. Burnout is hitting people now. People are processing and realising what they’ve gone through.”

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Source: The Guardian, 8 September 2020

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