Experienced A&E nurses are "leaving the NHS in droves" after becoming "frustrated" and "overwhelmed" with their roles, a senior health official has said.
Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, warned the health service was “haemorrhaging” experienced emergency nurses because they were unable to do the jobs they trained for.
On Tuesday, he told the House of Commons’ Health and Social Care Committee that nurses were feeling “overwhelmed” by having to provide a high level of in-patient care and were also worried their registrations were at risk because their work felt so "dangerous".
It came as Chris Hopson, chief strategy officer for NHS England, warned that planned strike action by NHS action on 6 February would be a “difficult” day for the health service.
Dr Boyle said he was worried staff “burnout will lead to burn away”, adding: “A lot of nurses, particularly the experienced nurses, they’re almost like the NCOs [non-commissioned officers] of the health service, the seargents who know how to get things done, are leaving in droves.
“Everytime I go into work I’m seeing nurses [say] can you sign this leaving card?
“We are haemorrhaging experienced emergency nurses because they’re finding it very frustrating, not because there is too much work, they’re unable to do the work they were trained to do.”
There are now a record 47,000 vacant nursing posts in England alone, according to official figures.
Patricia Marquis, Royal College of Nursing director for England, said the vacancies needed to be filled to improve the health service and fair pay would boost recruitment and retention.
She said: “The workforce crisis and nursing being underpaid has made care unsafe.”
Analysis from think tank The King’s Fund showed the shortage of nurses was in part due to increased demand but was also being “exacerbated by an increase in the number of nurses choosing to leave the NHS.”
Its data showed more than 34,000 nurses left their role in the NHS in 2022, which was an increase of 25% on the previous year.
The King’s Fund said there were no quick fixes to the problem and the government would need to improve retention by offering nurses better terms.
On Tuesday, the health service also faced criticism over its winter preparedness plans, with Dr Boyle saying that December was the “worst ever” in emergency departments.
He added that ongoing issues in the NHS “came to a head” in December, which he described as “awful”.
Nurses and ambulance staff will stage industrial action on the same day for the first time in the ongoing row over pay and conditions in what is expected to be the biggest strike in the history of the NHS.
Hopson told MPs: “Next month will see a step change in the action arising from the dispute between the trade unions and the government.”