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Australia Exhausted nurses quitting in droves: 'I felt sick going to work'

23:16  28 november  2021
23:16  28 november  2021 Source:   9news.com.au

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Exhausted nurses are giving up their registration and walking away from their jobs in droves, unable to cope with gruelling work conditions amid chronic staff shortages.

9News.com.au can exclusively reveal nurses are either drastically cutting back their hours, taking career breaks, or quitting in a year where the COVID-19 pandemic has crippled the industry.

A Melbourne nurse spoke to 9news.com.au about making the life-changing decision to pull the plug on her nursing career after feeling crushed by the physical and mental pressures of the job.

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The nurse, who has requested to remain anonymous, said the industry has been overrun and understaffed since the pandemic hit, which has left many swamped with an unbearable workload.

For many nurses like her, staff shortages and an increase in patients have led to double shifts and overtime becoming an exhausting norm.

Despite trying to stick it out, she told 9News.com.au she had to quit as she could not take it anymore.

"The hardest thing has been knowing how busy and how short-staffed the unit is, but then feeling like I can't possibly work anymore," she said.

"You pull overtime, you pull double shifts and things like that but the unit is always, always short-staffed."

While she has a passion for nursing and a love for caregiving, there was one person who wasn't being looked after: herself.

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"I loved it and I am passionate about healthcare and providing good quality healthcare — but not in these circumstances," she said.

"I think that's a lot of the reason why a lot of people are questioning whether they should leave because at what point does that love and passion for it run out?"

Leaving the industry did not come without guilt, the nurse revealing the decision to walk away — especially during a pandemic year — weighed on her heavily.

"I was definitely worried that I would be letting people down because the unit is already so short-staffed," she said.

"You are always getting text messages saying, 'can anyone work today or tomorrow,' multiple texts a day wondering if anyone can cover a shift.

"You get that feeling of no one can do enough."

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Hospitals have been overrun amid the COVID-19 pandemic. © Getty Hospitals have been overrun amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The long hours, combined with the difficulties that come with shift work and feeling burnt out, meant some days she would break down in tears before going to work.

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"In terms of my anxiety levels, I felt sick going to work," she said.

"I would cry before going to work, my partner definitely saw how much it affected me and I felt like I was caught between a rock and a hard place.

"There is a lot of pressure and you kind of can't fathom going to work sometimes.

"It's safe to the point where nurses are struggling."

The nurse is not alone. She told 9News.com.au that many people were either contemplating quitting or had quit due to the overwhelming workload.

Another Melbourne nurse, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said she has considered quitting numerous times due to the pressure.

Instead, she has decided to reduce her hours next year in an attempt to gain some much-needed relief.

"People are exhausted and there's not enough staff and everyone is overworking," she said.

"A lot of people are needing to call in sick for mental health days."

She told of how in recent shifts there had been unsafe patient-to-staff ratios due to worker shortages.

According to the nurse, there had been instances of nurses and midwives taking on double the number of patients than their ratio limit on the same shift.

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Healthcare workers have been doing increasing amounts of overtime and double shifts as hospitals remain understaffed. © Getty Healthcare workers have been doing increasing amounts of overtime and double shifts as hospitals remain understaffed.

"I know a lot of people that are leaving, a lot of people who are contemplating leaving, and a lot of people reducing hours to reduce their stress," she said.

"We have had people who have lost their jobs because they won't get vaccinated, we have had people quit because it's too stressful for them.

"It's definitely understaffed and we need more support, we need more staffing."

Both nurses emphasised their hospitals were not to blame, describing the staff shortages as "systemic issues", with their units trying their hardest to provide a safe workplace under strenuous circumstances.

Stringent PPE requirements — although necessary — have only inflamed their stress.

The nurses said the pain they suffered from wearing the gear was "awful".

"There's a lot of nurses that have pressure sores on their face, have developed dermatitis, they are having headaches now as a direct result of the N95 masks and face shields," the second nurse said.

"The morale is very low. It's hard to find positivity and enjoy your work when everyone there is burnt out, stressed, overworked and feeling underappreciated."

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Australian College of Nursing chief executive Kylie Ward said approximately 20,000 nurses have given up their APRA registration this year, a number which she described as "alarming" in a pandemic year.

Adjunct Professor Ward said the figure was not so different from the turnover in previous years, but still concerning as the industry could not replace experienced staff with new graduates.

However, she admitted recently she has been inundated with phone calls, emails and messages from nurses who had decided to leave or voiced concerns about serious burnout.

Several nurses were also falling victim to vile abuse.

"I am getting contacted every day. We get hundreds and hundreds of letters, emails, Facebook messages," Professor Ward said.

"What I am hearing every day is nurses are just walking away from their job.

"They are giving up their registration."

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Nurses are leaving for a number of reasons, including retirement, exhaustion and stress, and to work in a completely different industry.

The precise number of nurses who have quit will become clear in figures released in May next year.

"There are more concerns where nurses are just walking away, having a career break, stepping away from their job and finding something else to do that is not in health —which is a huge worry because it's a massive loss of knowledge, experience and contribution," Professor Ward said.

However, Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation Victorian branch secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick shut down suggestions that nurses were walking away from their jobs.

"Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia registration renewal numbers are stable with 96 per cent of all current nurses and midwives retaining their registration each year and the numbers are increasing every year," she said.

"No one is aware of any difference in resignation rates."

However, she said the "burnout is real" and nurses and midwives were "beyond exhausted".

"They are unable to take annual leave, they are doing extra shifts, double shifts and overtime," she said.

"As COVID-19 hospitalisations decline, they remain at high-capacity levels due to the non-COVID patients whose care and treatment has been delayed."

According to Ms Fitzpatrick, the solution to easing the pressure weighing on the industry was ensuring the community continued to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and "practical pandemic laws".

"We need Victorians to understand a pandemic doesn't care if you want it to be over. We are still living with a virus that has killed millions of people across the world."

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usr: 3
This is interesting!