Hospital staff describe 'distressing' battle against rising Covid cases
- Credit: PA
The Whittington hospital trust is lining up psychological support for staff involved in the “distressing” fight against the coronavirus second wave.
Chief nurse Michelle Johnson said help was being organised after a staff member said colleagues were becoming “burnt out” and quitting.
Beds occupied by Covid-19 patients increased more than seven-fold between early December and early January.
On December 1, the hospital had 21 Covid-19 patients. By January 5, the number was 179.
By Sunday, January 10, its adult critical care beds were 100 per cent occupied.
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That weekend the hospital “went on divert” – meaning it could not take emergency patients, due to a combination of bed shortages and high demand for oxygen.
“It is literally a horrible environment to be in, turning up to work and seeing all those ambulances outside,” said a nurse, speaking on condition of anonymity. “People go off sick with the stress. It’s quite dangerous. I know some people are leaving.
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“I think people are just tired. Tired, and sort of had enough. You don’t have any time for yourself. You go to work and you’re in Covid. You go home and Covid is all over the news. You’re physically and mentally exhausted.
“We haven’t even got over the first wave and now this second wave is here – and it’s worse.”
Ms Johnson said she had heard similar comments from staff.
“It’s exhausting, relentless, distressing,” she said. “I’ve been a nurse for over 30 years and I’ve never experienced something like this last year... I go home every night feeling, ‘I cannot believe we are going through this’.”
The trust is organising “immediate support” for staff, said Ms Johnson, which she was accessing herself: “It affects all of us.”
“I think the psychological support, the more long-term impact of Covid, will come later,” she said. “We are preparing for that. We are working with our mental health trusts and local primary care to make sure we’ve got that support ready when staff want it.”
The second wave has been “significantly harder on all the staff” than the first, said Ms Johnson, with patient numbers higher than ever.
A nurse said: “There are lots of staff shortages... My shifts are 12.5 hours and I have been picking up extra shifts to help out. A lot of us feel obliged to help out.
“There were two nurses this week on a ward of Covid patients... You’re talking at least 15 or 20 patients.
“I got [a message] at the weekend asking nurses to come in and cover the ITU [intensive care], even if they are not qualified, and they will pay an enhanced rate. The ones who are not qualified would be supporting the ones who are qualified.
“A couple of doctors told me they were asked to cover the ITU nurses’ breaks. But the doctors could get an emergency bleep and have to rush off, so patients could potentially be left unattended.”
Ms Johnson said an increase in lateral flow tests had picked up asymptomatic infections in staff who might otherwise have come to work and unwittingly infected colleagues or patients.
As a result, she said: “We have more nurses off sick than we ever normally have... We are managing on a day to day, shift by shift basis, to ensure all areas of the trust are safely covered.”
She said that meant staff being “incredibly flexible, to work with patients and provide care that may be someone else’s responsibility normally.”
One nurse told this newspaper that non-compliance with Covid-19 rules was damaging morale.
“I encountered someone saying to me the other day it was all a hoax,” she said. “It was an Uber driver on my way to work. The whole journey, he was saying it was a hoax. I was trying to tell him and arguing but he was adamant... It was so ignorant. I gave up in the end because I was going into a shift and you need that time beforehand to prepare yourself.”
Ms Johnson said the vaccine had boosted morale, saying: “I did lots of vaccines at the end of last week with staff and the buzz in the clinic was just wonderful.”
She said residents should not be deterred from seeking medical help, adding: “Thanks to the incredibly hard work of staff from across the trust we are still able to care safely for everyone who needs us.
“But on behalf of my hardworking colleagues, I appeal to the public to follow the national lockdown rules and stay at home unless you absolutely must go out.”