Jenny McGee who stayed by the Prime Minister’s bedside while he spent two days in intensive care last year, also heavily criticised his government’s handling of the pandemic, describing hospital conditions over the winter as “a cesspool of Covid”.
Referring to a 1 per cent pay rise for NHS staff proposed by Mr Johnson’s administration, Ms McGee said medical workers were “not getting the respect and now pay that we deserve”.
"I’m just sick of it,” she said. “So I’ve handed in my resignation.”
The lead intensive care nurse at St Thomas’ hospital in London made the comments in a Channel 4 documentary set to be broadcast on May 24.
The Year Britain Stopped will examine the 15-month-long Covid pandemic in the UK.
‘He looked very, very unwell’
Describing the Prime Minister’s condition when he was admitted, Ms McGee said: “All around him there was lots and lots of sick patients, some of whom were dying.
“I remember seeing him and thinking he looked very, very unwell. He was a different colour really.”
When Mr Johnson was eventually discharged from St Thomas’, he hailed Ms McGee and another nurse, Luis Pitarma, saying: “The reason, in the end, my body did start to get enough oxygen was because for every second of the night, they were watching.”
But Ms McGee, who is originally from Invercargill in New Zealand, also revealed how Downing Street staff had later asked her to participate in a “clap for the NHS” photo opportunity with the Prime Minister.
Ms McGee told the documentary she had been led to believe the visit to No.10 had been arranged for Mr Johnson to thank her discreetly for her care.
“It would have been a really good photo opportunity,” she said. “You know, kind of like Boris and his NHS friends, but I wanted to stay out of it.”
Photographs of Mr Johnson with both nurses in the garden of Downing Street in July were subsequently released by No.10 as the NHS marked 72 years.
‘I’m just not sure if I can do it’
Rounding on the UK’s handling of the pandemic, Ms McGee said: “Lots of nurses felt that the government hadn’t led very effectively, the indecisiveness, so many mixed messages.”
She added: “It was just very upsetting.
“Yes, we have put ourselves on the line and we have worked so incredibly hard, and there’s a lot of talk about how we’re all heroes and all that sort of stuff.
“But at the same time, I’m just not sure if I can do it. I don’t know how much more I’ve got to give to the NHS.”
Ms McGee described working conditions in the hospital over winter, when coronavirus cases began to resurge, as “a cesspool of Covid”.
“This time there was more than the first surge,” she said. “The nurses are stretched even more.”
She added: “[It was] an absolute s***show to be honest.
“At that point, I don’t know how to describe the horrendousness of what we were going through. We were desperate.”
Royal College of Nursing
More than a third (36 per cent) of nursing staff in the UK are considering leaving the profession, according to a study carried out in 2020 by the Royal College of Nursing, up from 27 per cent in 2019.
Of those thinking of leaving, two thirds (61 per cent) cited poor pay as a reason, while other factors included the way nursing staff have been treated during the pandemic (44 per cent), low staffing levels (43 per cent), and lack of management support (42 per cent).
Nearly three-quarters (73 per cent) of the 42,000 members who responded said higher pay would make them feel more valued.
Pat Cullen, the acting general secretary and chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Nursing staff are exhausted and burnt out after a punishing year of tackling the Covid-19 pandemic.
“To hear the government’s proposed 1 per cent pay rise is an insult and shows how little the government listens to and respects nursing staff who have been putting their lives on the line.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said on Twitter that Ms McGee’s comments were “a devastating indictment of Boris Johnson’s approach to the people who put their lives on the line for him and our whole country”.
‘We are extremely grateful for the care’
In a statement released on Tuesday through Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS foundation trust, Ms McGee said: “After the toughest year of my nursing career, I’m taking a step back from the NHS, but hope to return in the future.
“I’m excited to start a nursing contract in the Caribbean, before a holiday back home in New Zealand later in the year.
“I’m so proud to have worked at St Thomas’ hospital and to have been part of such a fantastic team.”
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “Our NHS staff have gone above and beyond over the past year and this government will do everything in our power to support them.
“We are extremely grateful for the care NHS staff have provided throughout the pandemic in particular.
“That is why they have been exempted from the public sector wide pay freeze implemented as a result of the difficult economic situation created by the pandemic.”
The spokesperson added: “At the same time, we have invested £30 million to support staff mental health and are expanding the number of places available for domestic students at medical schools in England to continue expanding our workforce.”