Nurses across the country have experienced much more trauma than we will ever know. The distressing images shown on the news is an everyday reality.
London has faced an unprecedented amount of Covid cases since March. Katie*, a paediatric nurse who wants to remain anonymous, has been on the frontline since the start.
“People clapped at eight and made rainbows to have something to do and a purpose during lockdown but ultimately I feel people will forget what we have dealt with and go back to the normal levels of demands from the NHS quicker than we have recovered,” she said.
“As an ICU nurse we learn to have high standards of care under a staff-patient ratio of one-to-one, in extreme circumstances a two-to-one ratio may be used, but not regularly. To be working at a two-to-one ratio or higher for a prolonged period of time becomes stressful as standards of care can’t be sustained, this leads to feeling like we are failing.”
Katie has been a paediatric nurse for many years and Covid has meant she has moved departments to begin working with adult patients again in life-threatening conditions in the ICU.
“It was certainly difficult to work with adults, however basic nursing care and a lot of ICU skills are transferable. The hardest part is starting a shift and not knowing who you are working with or the other nurse’s skills, it is like starting a new job every day which is highly stressful,” she said.
“Seeing the effect of Covid on patients is really scary. People are completely helpless to it, you can see them struggling to breathe and they deteriorate”
“We all dress in full PPE meaning you only get to see a person’s eyes through googles and you have to ascertain very quickly what people’s skills are and demonstrate your own skills so patient safety can be maintained.”
Covid deaths after the Christmas peak means we are seeing more than 1,000 people dying every day, with the R-rate [the rate of infection] rising with it. As a nurse working in a hospital, it’s not uncommon to encounter death almost every day. However, the number of people dying at the same time is very testing for NHS staff.
“It is awful to see patients pass away. In ICU we are on the position that most patients are sedated and unaware, making it harder for relatives. We do the most we can with empathy and treat people how we would want our family or friends treated. I have shed a tear for more than one patient,” Katie told Artefact.
It’s very hard to imagine what’s it’s like as we’re sat working from home, the highlight of our week is going into a socially distanced war in the Sainsbury’s pasta aisle. We don’t see the reality of the virus, just the numbers. However, the overcrowded wards and lack of resources means these nurses are putting theirs and their families lives at risk everyday.
“There is no way to discuss a shift properly with family or friends just with other colleagues, this has always been the easiest way as we have a mutual understanding. I try and protect my family and be an upbeat and positive mother which is as stressful.”
For many of us, the guidelines are easy to follow and we all try and do our bit to keep ourselves and loved ones safe, a few don’t, and instead ruin it not only for themselves but for everyone else – especially the NHS.
In March, the country had a sense of camaraderie, with rainbows and weekly rounds of applause to show our support for essential workers. However, it seems as if spirits have been dampened with the weather and people are becoming rebellious with regard to the rules.
“I have shed many a tear for this as well, I understand some people struggle with lockdown and rules but it’s a shame people can’t experience what we do then maybe they would follow the rules more strictly. People clapped at eight and made rainbows to have something to do and a purpose during lockdown but ultimately I feel people will forget what we have dealt with and go back to the normal levels of demands from the NHS quicker than we have recovered.”
This was a very sad but unfortunately true statement. When Covid is over, who will remember the sacrifice these NHS heroes have made?In May 2020, A&E visits were 57% lower compared to May 2019 according to The Health Foundation. However, following the ‘ease’ on Covid restrictions in the Summer, numbers have since skyrocketed:
“In the first national lockdown, our A&E visits were about half what they usually are. We were much quieter and I think that was due to peoples fear of coming to the hospital with the virus around. Unfortunately, we’re now back to our normal visiting numbers, if not higher numbers than they were pre-Covid, and often cases we are seeing are things that are not appropriate for A&E and should not have visited. We see about 400-450 people in a 24 hour period at the moment.”
Lucy* is a 22-year-old A&E nurse and since graduating in 2019 she’s been thrown into the workforce at the deep-end.
“I started in September and by December we were making plans to deal with Covid. I lost a lot of face-to-face sessions and support because of Covid”. Unlike many other nurses, she has stayed in her department dealing with accidents and emergencies during the pandemic.
However, when working in a hospital during a global pandemic it’s everywhere: “We get a lot of Covid-infected patients brought into us by ambulance that we also have to manage.”
“I’ve seen quite a few tragic accidents and incidences that are not Covid-related however, seeing the effect of Covid on patients is really scary. People are completely helpless to it, you can see them struggling to breathe and they deteriorate really quickly. I’ve unfortunately seen a lot of people whose last resort is to be intubated and they’ve never made it off the incubator,” she continued.
Lucy is one of 200 healthcare professionals in the hospital’s A&E department and they have been doing what they can to provide each other support through what is a mentally draining job without Covid.
“We have a very supportive team in A&E, we have a lot of debriefs and opportunities to talk to our leads. We’ve also been given/directed to a lot of helpline numbers or Zoom clinics specifically for NHS staff”
“To be working at a two-to-one ratio or higher for a prolonged period of time becomes stressful as standards of care can’t be sustained, this leads to feeling like we are failing.”
A&E sees the brunt of the most horrific accidents, and the pandemic has made work even more demanding. I asked Lucy the same question as Katie: have some of the public stopped putting in the effort to stop the spread of Covid?
“I don’t feel appreciated anymore, a huge amount of patients and the general public have become so rude and abusive to staff whether that be in person at the hospital, online or on the telephone and it makes us feel so under-appreciated,” she said.
“I can’t even put into words how frustrating it is seeing people breaking Covid rules. We have worked so hard, risked so much, sacrificed so much, such as not seeing our own families to keep them safe, working overtime, with short staff in extreme situations. Feels like such a kick in the teeth”
I hope the sacrifices they have made are worth it when we eventually beat this virus, and that NHS staff are thanked the way they deserve to be.
With the Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine both in full effect with many vulnerable people being protected after both doses, the nurses are set to receive the vaccine in the near future with hopes it can help them stay protected, and the NHS protected.
* The contributors’ names have been changed to protect their identity.
Featured image courtesy of Thanks a million NHS staff.
Edited by: Sophie Victoria Brown and Jussi Grut.