A critical care nurse who shared a tearful video of herself urging people to stop panic-buying food at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed she is considering leaving the profession.
In the footage circulated on social media in March last year, Dawn Bilbrough, from York, made a heartfelt plea for shoppers to stop stockpiling after being unable to find fruit or vegetables at a supermarket following a 48-hour shift.
Reflecting on the moment a year later, Ms Bilbrough said it was “difficult to hear and to see” and that the video showed her at “one of my lowest points”.
She told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend that working in critical care during the pandemic had been “relentless, incredibly traumatic, physically and emotionally exhausting”.
Ms Bilbrough described building a bond with her long-term patients, saying health workers have had to carry the “great burden” of witnessing lives being lost.
“We’re at the patient’s bedside 12 hours a day and they haven’t had their families, they haven’t had that usual psychological support that they would receive from their family, so we’ve been their everything really,” she told the BBC.
“Of course, they’ve been with us for a much longer period of time than what we would ordinarily have with a patient within intensive care for.
“We’ve got to know them as people, their likes, their dislikes, their dreams, they’ve talked about their families.
“Then, of course, they’ve become really unwell and they’ve been placed on ventilators, and quite often they haven’t got through that and that’s been really difficult because, personally, I’ve felt a bond to all of my patients and to witness them not progress as we would wish, that’s really, really hard.”
Ms Bilbrough recalled once finishing a shift at 8pm after caring for a “pod” of four Covid patients, only to return the next day to find all had died and been replaced with different people.
“We were kind of facing that quite often and that’s just unheard of, and that’s a great burden,” she added.
Ms Bilbrough said that in the “last wave” of Covid infections she was seeing “more die than go into the wards”.
She said fewer patients were now coming into hospital with acute Covid, but many patients were still going through rehabilitation or remaining on ventilation – including those aged in their 50s.
Ms Bilbrough, who started her training 20 years ago, admitted she never would have imagined having to deal with something like the pandemic.
Asked if she had considered leaving her profession in the last year, she emphasised she and her colleagues had “remained professional” but that it was “a human response” to reconsider a career after experiencing “high levels of stress”.
She added: “Long-term I am reconsidering my future, I will certainly remain in nursing for the foreseeable, but long-term I’m not really sure what my plans are going to be.”
In the clip posted online 12 months ago she emotionally described people “just stripping the shelves of basic foods”, fearfully saying: “I just don’t know how I’m supposed to stay healthy.”
“You just need to stop it, because there are people like me that are going to be looking after you when you’re at your lowest,” she said.
Asked by the BBC if as a nurse she felt more valued now by the public, Ms Bilbrough said there was “so much love for the NHS” and that people had come to realise “how highly skilled and knowledgeable critical care nurses are”.
She hope that the “huge respect” for the profession would continue and that people will remember “the sacrifices and the burdens” that had been made.