Call The Midwife viewers were left “sobbing” and “in bits” after Nurse Barbara died suddenly during the latest episode of the BBC drama.
The character, played by Charlotte Ritchie since 2015, passed away after contracting septicaemia.
Dozens of “heartbroken” viewers posted messages on social media saying they were devastated about the surprise storyline.
One said: “Oh my goodness! In absolute bits after watching @CallTheMidwife1! To be fair, I cry watching that programme most weeks but I am heartbroken we have lost the brilliant Barbara – @Charitchie! Bravo to the entire cast, every episode better than the last!”
Actress Ritchie said she was also emotional about leaving, saying she was departing with “a really heavy heart”.
“I am so, so sad to be saying goodbye to the show I love so much,” she said.
“It was a near impossible decision to make, but it felt like the right time for me to keep on moving and keep trying new things. I adore Barbara and it is with a really heavy heart that I’ve let her go.”
Ritchie added: “This show has never shied away from reality and it is a sad fact that lots of wonderful young people suffer from sepsis, and sometimes don’t live through it.
“Call The Midwife continues to raise awareness of desperately important medical issues that still affect people today.
“I am so grateful for having been allowed to be part of Call The Midwife for four glorious years.”
A Call The Midwife representative said the show hoped to raise awareness of sepsis with Nurse Barbara’s story.
The spokesperson said: “During series six of Call The Midwife, a number of beautiful children who had lost limbs to sepsis appeared on screen as part of our Thalidomide strand. After meeting them, we very much wanted to raise awareness of this cruel disease.
“When Charlotte Ritchie, who plays Barbara, announced that she was leaving the show, we realised we had the perfect opportunity to create a story around an illness that kills 44,000 people per year in the UK, many of them very young.
“Our fans have been deeply touched by the storyline, which continues as the Nonnatus family come to terms with Barbara’s death next week.”