After 14-hour night shifts for the past two weeks, often covering for colleagues who are ill or self-isolating, one senior healthcare practitioner from Croydon working at a large London hospital – though not Mayday – offers their perspective on dealing with the covid-19 emergency
Even though for us it’s our day job, we’re always conscious that we’re looking after real people, who might just as easily be us, our parents, children or friends.
The last few weeks have seen unparalleled change and challenges, with the accompanying levels of stress that you might expect.
Having said all that, if there’s one emotion that I’d like to tell you about from my experience over the last few weeks of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, it’s pride. Pride in the NHS and the colleagues I work with. A Telegraph article on Sunday criticised the “inflexibility of our lumbering NHS”, saying it was to blame for the current lockdown.
That is certainly not my experience. Working in operating theatres, I’ve seen both our people and our organisation adapt incredibly well. Orthopaedic surgeons working as nurses in intensive care units, anaesthetists and operating department practitioners travelling around the hospital to intubate those in need of ventilation. Theatres, recovery units and surgical wards transformed into intensive care zones in days. Even those who are working in their normal environments have had to fundamentally change their behaviours to meet the crisis.
The bravery of NHS staff is incredible.
Many of my colleagues – doctors and nursing staff – are off sick, either with the virus, or awaiting testing results in order to hurry back to work.
A couple of friends are really very unwell, which alongside what we see on our wards, daily brings home a sense of mortality.
We still serve.
I have a midwife friend who would be considered at much higher risk than most of us, and yet determinedly comes to work to look after her patients, some of whom will be unaware they are virus carriers. So many staff come to work worried that they’ll take the virus home to partners and children. I work with some incredible people.
Obviously, there are challenges. Shortages of PPE, Personal Protective Equipment, along with increased demand on the supply chain, means that staff have to be especially vigilant, lest they run out of what they need to do their jobs.
Mask fittings were problematic, in that the initial product bought to fit the majority of staff did not sufficiently defend a large number of wearers.
Testing is still slow, and as such the workforce is not as strong as it could be. We’ve also seen a few patients try and cover up symptoms in order to receive treatment. Last week a father attempted to withhold knowledge of his fever in case we prevented him from seeing the birth of a child. For the system to work well, patients need to trust us.
Once this all ends, there will be time to assess what went well and what went badly. In this difficult and uncharted scenario, mistakes will have been made by people doing their best to make difficult decisions.
It’s probably sensible to wait for any judgement on how the government has handled this situation until much later in the process. Even if your gut might tell you something about the speed at which the country went on “lockdown”, it’s probably for the best to see how this plays out. After all, not many people will have seen all the modelling or received the level of advice that the Cabinet have.
The increased costs associated with training as a doctor, nurse, operating department practitioner or most other healthcare specialities mean that even before this crisis, our NHS hospitals were forced to hire large numbers of agency staff while using reduced trainee rotas.
The calibre of agency staff is usually very good, but particularly now when hospitals may have to offer extortionate rates to attract staff to work, the cost to the taxpayer can be extremely high. One 12½-hour shift was posted recently offering a payment of £732.
The shortfall in permanent staff and medical trainees represents a market failure, which I hope the government will seek to address.
In the meantime, your healthcare professionals will continue to work as hard as we can to look after you.
We’re a little scared at the moment, like you, but up for the challenges ahead. We do really appreciate the claps, the opportunity to turn up early at Morrisons to get some loo roll, and it is nice to park at work for free, rather than have to pay £12.50 a day.
But if you all can do one thing for us, it’s to follow government advice, stay indoors wherever possible, and care for the vulnerable. We’ve seen what coronavirus does to people, not just the old or those with underlying conditions. We’ve seen what it can do to colleagues and friends. We’d like to treat the smallest possible number of people.
But be assured, if you do need us, we’ve got you.
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