October 18, 2022
SEOUL – Nurses who were at the front lines of the yearslong battle against COVID-19 are being neglected as the pandemic recedes, according to the results of a local survey released by Rep. Kang Sun-woo of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea on Monday.
The Korean Nurses Association conducted a survey on 764 nurses from 245 hospitals across the country between Sept. 19 and 25, which included a total of 588 nurses who worked at COVID-19 wards. Of the 588, 229 nurses were not able to return to where they worked before, but were sent to other departments instead.
Of the 229 nurses, 83 percent said they were sent to other departments against their will. Of these nurses who were involuntarily relocated, 69 nurses were not even informed that they would be transferred.
Moreover, 138 nurses, or 60.3 percent of the 229 nurses were pressured to quit or to go on unpaid leave.
Nurses who failed to return to their positions answered that they felt “enormously stressed,” “betrayed,” “despair about being treated as expendables,” “lost a sense of self-respect” and “became skeptical about their job.”
Some nurses — 22 respondents — also answered that they were forced to take their annual leave or to transfer to other departments frequently.
Eighty-seven nurses said that they are currently working in short-staffed departments, while the 85 said they were asked to help out in different wards on a daily basis.
“The reason that nurses could put up with high work intensity and risks (in COVID-19 wards) was that they were recognized for their hard work and dedication. But now they feel despair, betrayed and abandoned as the pandemic recedes,” an official from the Korean Nurses Association said.
Although they feel mistreated at the moment, 62 percent said that they would consider returning to COVID-19 wards if the pandemic gets worse again.
However, only 0.4 percent of nurses said they would return willingly. Around 29 percent of the respondents said they would return to COVID-19 wards because they don’t have other options. The remaining 32.7 percent said they would work at COVID-19 wards only if they can return to where they used to work before the pandemic.
Meanwhile, around 30 percent said that they would quit their job if they were assigned to COVID-19 wards again.
The KNA said the country needs actual compensation and safety measures for nurses rather than empty compliments.
Rep. Kang said that confusion has increased among hospital nurses, with the government overusing its administrative authority and the hospitals’ unilateral relocation of nurses.