'I feel so seen': NHS nurse play sheds light on burnout, Covid and strikes

Based on interview recordings with 50 nurses, new play Tending shares the highs and lows of life working in the NHS.

The writers of a new Fringe play based on the interviews of 50 anonymous NHS nurses are hopeful the show could push the public to action for greater support of the profession.

Tending explores the careers of those aged 19 to 82 to accurately reflect what it’s like to work in the health service and the challenges it brings.

In 2022, there were 600 fewer students studying nursing than the Scottish Government’s intake target. According to a recent survey by the Royal College of Nurses (RCN), two thirds of Scottish student nurses were considering a career change due to financial pressure.

Writer El Blackwood said: “These are real people with real stories which are really complex, they’ve gone on their own journeys and they deserve to be listened to themselves, not through the prism of other people.”

It was important for the actors to reflect the individual story of each staff member and the script features the exact words of each interviewee.

Actress Stella Saltibus said: “It feels amazing, not even just being me, it feels like our company is amazing because we’ve taken up this task and we’ve tried so hard to give authenticity to the nurses.”

Assistant producer Izzy Howes is a paediatric ICU nurse who qualified in 2019.

During Covid, she was redeployed to the adult ICU to help with the sheer number of people being admitted.

The cast of Tending shared their experiences of performing in the play

Her experiences have helped shaped the play as she and long-time friend, El, combed through the highs and lows of working during that intense and difficult time.

She said: “I hadn’t anticipated how it would feel until it came to watch the rehearsals and I just cried. I just sobbed – because not only is it so validating to hear your words verbatim said back to you, but to have your best friend say them to you and really see you.

“Yeah I felt so seen. It’s brought up a lot, so there have been points where I’ve had to take myself off, there are things I have not addressed.”

Directed by John Livesey, the play is being run in conjunction with two charities The Burdett Trust, which supplies nursing grants for nurses, and Cavell, working to support nurses either retired or still employed through personal or financial hardship.

One of the audience members watching was emotional as she said: “I am a nurse and I could relate to a lot of it. It’s kind of my life I suppose.

“I think people should understand we’re fighting now, but there are some good times as well.

“That bit where they were all dancing; every Friday, all of us that were on, we make a point of choosing a song and we all dance to it before we start work and it’s things like that make it worthwhile.”

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