Overworked, underpaid and resigning: European health workers decry ’empty’ post-pandemic promises
Euronews has interviewed public health professionals across Europe and they all agree: working conditions have only gotten worse since the pandemic and they demand action.
There has been no lack of public appreciation for hospital staff during the pandemic, across the world people have stood on their doorsteps and on their balconies in the evenings cheering on the heroes who are keeping the healthcare system going together.
While this gratitude was appreciated at the time, healthcare workers in several European countries now feel it was an empty gesture, because two years after the start of the pandemic, working conditions no longer have only deteriorated.
“That applause rings very hollow now because it wasn’t followed by action,” said Howard Catton, CEO of the International Council of Nurses (ICN).
European medical professionals have told Euronews that doctors and nurses are still suffering after the chaos at work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Christophe Prudhomme, an emergency doctor in Paris, said the “total disorganization of the health system” was putting “very high pressure on staff”, with doctors and nurses having to wrap themselves in bin bags instead of being provided with the adequate material.
This logistical pressure forced doctors and nurses to make difficult ethical decisions, which adversely affected the mental health of workers, the impact of which remains.
The president of the Italian National Association of Nurses, Walter De Caro, told Euronews: “There was a kind of selection of people who could survive because there was a lack of ventilators, a whole series of resources were missing. .
“This, of course, led to the emotional exhaustion of many colleagues.”
He added that the mental health of staff had been significantly affected, with seven nurses taking their own lives during the pandemic.
“There is no doubt that some health workers have died from contracting the coronavirus,” Catton said, explaining that it was an international phenomenon. “But we’ve also seen this huge psychological and mental health strain, from people ranging from anxiety and burnout to people with PTSD symptoms.”
However, there has been no respite for healthcare workers across Europe – representatives from Italy, France, Spain and Germany have all described how the growing workload combined with a shortage of hospital beds creates an unbearable work environment.
De Caro described the distressing situation in Italy: “There are no beds to admit patients and in recent days there have been many cases of violence against nurses.”
It is also a problem for French hospitals: “The big problem we have in France is a very insufficient number of resuscitation beds, you should know that the annual number of resuscitation beds has hardly changed these years, while the population has grown, it has aged” explains Prudhomme.
He added that there has been “a phenomenon of massive resignations of staff” in France, a consequence of these conditions.
In Germany, medical professionals have also resigned, which has only increased the workload of those who remain.
Nurse Lina Gürtler told Euronews that “we still have the usual illnesses”, so while the numbers are down, the number of patients remains the same.
Pay is also a key issue for European doctors and nurses, adding to the unease spreading across the continent.
De Caro told Euronews that the Italian health system needs 70,000 more nurses, but despite this the incentives to join the profession are lacking.
“The employment contract was recently renewed, but the salary of Italian nurses is still among the lowest in Europe.”
Representing 28 million nurses in 130 national nursing associations around the world, the International Council of Nurses has taken the temperature on conditions in hospitals around the world.
“I’ve seen resistance, a refusal from politicians to really invest in nurses and healthcare workers,” CEO Howard Catton told Euronews.
Catton warns that this position could “backfire” as the pressure becomes too much for some healthcare workers to choose to leave the profession.
In the UK, where nurses from a majority of NHS employers voted to strike for the first time, the government refused to negotiate on pay.
While in the Spanish capital, doctors already picketed in November and thousands gathered to protest their “excessive workload”, “long hours” and “time insufficient spent with their patients”.
This was prompted by the regional government’s decision to reopen all emergency services for 24 hours without interruption, which the Spanish union Amits said has dramatically increased the workload and caused mass resignations.
ER nurse Alfredo Rizo was affected by the reorganization of hospitals in Madrid and said the situation was ‘very very stressful’.
With winter approaching, a period of high pressure at best for hospitals, several European countries are now facing an unprecedented “triple epidemic”: with seasonal flu, bronchiolitis and COVID-19 circulating in population.
The combination of pandemic burnout, rising costs of living and difficult working conditions are pushing healthcare workers over the edge, many of whom feel undervalued and underpaid.