Exhausted. Anxious. Unable to relax

NHS nurses feel the burden of loneliness

Nurses in the NHS experience loneliness in a very unique way. The challenges they have faced since the beginning of the pandemic have caused them to reach rock bottom, feeling more isolated and vulnerable than ever before.

Before March 2020, the NHS and its hard working nurses felt at harmony. They enjoyed the social aspects of work, including interacting with patients and their families which “made the day fly by.” Nurses were also able to be flexible with appointments and build relationships with long-term in-patients. One of the main privileges was the ability to look at someones facial expressions and understand truly how they feeling, without “having to guess behind a blue piece of fabric.” Nursing, considered one of the most rewarding jobs to be in, is now becoming one of loneliness.

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Mustafa Amarat, a researcher from Sakarya University in Turkey found that “Nurses’ loneliness at the workplace and work alienation leads to a de‐ cline in their job performance.” This is from his ongoing study on alienation in the workplace and how it effects nurses work performance: Four in 10 nurses under the age of 34 said they were depressed, isolated, or lonely, and nearly half acknowledged a “desire to quit” in those 14 days prior to the survey.

Since the pandemic began, NHS nurses have continuously felt loneliness in all aspects of their work and personal life. According to a survey, one in four nurses have sought mental health support due to the pandemics impact. This is particularly seen in younger nurses, as they responded to the survey with powerful phrases such as felling “exhausted,” “anxious” and “unable to relax.”

When being admitted to hospital, or even going to the doctor, nurses tend to be the first person you speak to, who provide a soft guidance and comfort. It’s a real shock to learn that the people you rely on whilst at your most vulnerable, are feeling just as panicked and uncertain. It’s unsettling to learn how significant the pandemic had effected the NHS nurses, and how little support they have received by their governing bodies and the government since March 2020.

NHS nurse, Leanne Symington who works at Bournemouth Hospital says: “Recently the emergency department has been so busy and chaotic that I have been asked to see seriously ill patients on my own. Often there are times where I haven’t been able to seek a senior’s review or help with a patient because of how busy everyone is so I feel completely isolated.”

A common story for many nurses since the start of the pandemic is the lack of support from the government and NHS higher bodies. The new regulations that were introduced are inflicting pain onto NHS nurses. Lea Pett, a trainee nurse from Salisbury Hospital described days where she was wearing PPE for such a long time without having breaks, the “masks were digging into my skin, leaving me with rashes and deep marks for days.” “I tried to speak to supervisors about it, but they too didn’t have any answers apart from to get on with it, I felt vulnerable and helpless.”

Both Lea and Leanne explained that it was beneficial to speak to other NHS staff that were in the same position as them, but this was the only minimal support they received. However, Leanne explained whilst reminiscing on one of the “hardest shifts she’s ever had,” that even the most senior nurse had to step out of the ICU (intensive care unit) to cry as it was atmosphere was so tense. “As a junior, this was the first time that I felt really terrified and isolated of the working environment I was in.”

Stories were constantly circulating in the media with how stressed the NHS was throughout the first year of Covid-19. The government were often accused by doctors and nurses for just sitting in their offices and pointing fingers whilst their desperation in the field got worse. The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson was given credit for the work the nurses were doing, which angered the nurses across the South of England. They were working 12-13 hour shifts, often without a break, to only be offered a 1% pay rise a year after the pandemic began.

When the news broke that nurses would only be rewarded for their efforts with a 1% pay rise, nurses felt more isolated and frustrated than ever before. Leanne Syminton continued to express her exasperation on how the government began to make the vaccinations mandatory for all NHS staff (others they would be fired.) “When we see people die as a result of covid and the vaccine, it was pretty stressful, especially when I’m fit and healthy and didn’t need the vaccine, and senior doctors were expressing their concerns over them. I felt as though the government and media were telling me one thing, and doctors and science were telling me another when it came to the vaccine.”

Lea Pett also voiced a similar story, “Considering they didn’t know the position we as nurses were in, they had no right to demand us a timeline to get the vaccine. We were literally saving lives and the country, and they had the cheek to tell us we had to be vaccinated.” Lea further explained as she shook her head and sighed that she didn’t know who to turn to or speak to, nothing could be done about it or she would loose her job. This was extremely emotional to hear.

Not only does the annoyance with the government make NHS nurses feel alienated, but the impending fear of death is one of the toughest experiences of them all. Doctors from Tehran University of Medical Science conducted research on ‘COVID-19 pandemic and death anxiety among intensive care nurses working.’ Their findings concluded: “Death anxiety can affect the quality of patient care services and the job satisfaction and mental health of nurses.”

This is a common factor that clearly relates to nurses across the globe. Leanne spoke of her experience and the fear of potential death whilst working on the front line during peak Covid numbers. This was obviously very emotional for her to re-live as it took a while for her to recite her memories. “My main fear was passing the virus to my family or my friends and killing them. I live at home with my family and have to see patients with Covid, even now.”

The Bournemouth Hospital nurse continued: “Knowing I was surrounded by a deadly virus that as a nation we still didn’t know much about was terrifying, you never knew what was going to happen in the next few hours, let alone the next day.” “I soon realised that the virus wasn’t as deadly to healthy people as the media made out, but at the time it was a fear that I would make my loved ones sick. But it wasn’t something I could escape.”

Leanne continued to explain that this was the pinnacle of her loneliness. Combined with the other factors of being run off her feet all day, not having support from anyone par the limited comfort from other nurses, and the anxiety of death, she felt completely isolated.

As the world begins to become more ‘normal,’ the facts and figures surrounding nurses in the NHS and how isolated they have felt are becoming more apparent. Workplace alienation undoubtably has negative connotations on a persons overall job performance. This negative mind-set is magnified when work loneliness is used as a mediating variable, and from speaking first hand to NHS nurses, their loneliness from the affects of the pandemic became ever more real.

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