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With a new variant of coronavirus first detected in India expected to become the dominant strain in the UK within days, there are concerns that Covid’s disruption of normal healthcare may continue.
Six healthcare workers reflect on how the pandemic has affected their jobs over the past few months and whether the new variant could cause a rise in Covid infections and hospitalisations.
The intensive care nurse, London
During the first wave, we got lots of messages from the trust and hospital saying we were amazing, and telling us how much they cared, but now we’re just forgotten again.
The coronavirus cases are low at the moment. At our peak, there were above 100 patients being cared for, and now there’s around 10. I don’t know how to feel about that, because most of our patients passed away. It’s something I keep thinking about.
Now that the restrictions have eased, visiting is better. One person can go and visit their relative for one hour a day, as long as they’re not symptomatic and have organised a time slot in advance. When cases were high, and there was lots of bereavement, especially among young patients with parents wanting to visit, that was difficult.
I am expecting to see a rise in coronavirus cases from this new variant [first identified in India] since the young population has still not been vaccinated. I am concerned about the ease of restrictions allowing people to gather indoors, and just hoping that the people at risk will be fine since most of them have been vaccinated. I know that me and my colleagues have made a difference saving people who otherwise would have died, but I’m disappointed and tired. During the first wave, we got lots of messages from the trust and hospital saying we were amazing, and telling us how much they cared, but now we’re just forgotten again.
The GP, Isle of Wight
When news broke about concerns that the AstraZeneca vaccine was linked to blood clots, we had a sudden rush of people who had had the vaccine wanting to be checked … Not a single one was a blood clot.
We have a single case on the island of the new variant, from a trip to India. Our worry is with lockdown easing and living in a tourist hotspot will numbers climb again and our hospital struggle to cope. With waiting lists already long we don’t want another wave stopping the NHS moving forward.
At the moment it’s about the backlog of patients Covid has caused, and how we support people while the backlog is being managed.
There are a lot of patients who have reached the maximum help I can give them as a GP. They need hospital intervention, but there is none, because people are waiting for outpatient services for over a year. How do you keep people going when you’re at the limit of what you can do?
When news broke about concerns that the AstraZeneca vaccine was linked to blood clots, we had a sudden rush of people who had had the vaccine wanting to be checked because they had leg aches or headaches and were concerned about it being a clot. We were inundated with calls. Not a single one was a blood clot. We also had lots more queries from people asking if they should take it. At the start of the vaccine rollout, we didn’t get any queries at all, people were just grateful to be having one.
Morale among staff is very low because of the sheer volume of work. Before Covid, I would see 30 or 40 patients a day. Now, I could have 70 in a day. We’re working 13- or 14-hour days, and Sunday evenings most of the time. That’s all you can do.
The cardiac physiologist, who was redeployed as an ICU nurse, Birmingham
I think most people think that when an outbreak is over, it means downtime. It doesn’t; the focus has just shifted to something else.
I’m leaving the NHS to go to the private sector. It’s something I’ve considered for a little while, but I don’t think I’d be leaving at this stage if it wasn’t for coronavirus. I moved to intensive care to help support staff there because it was overwhelmed and the time away from the cardiology ward made me realise I wasn’t happy there. Sometimes in the NHS you feel a bit restricted, and there’s a lot of bureaucracy.
Intensive care was difficult and emotional. Staff cried together. Losing patients was really hard. I wasn’t used to seeing death at that level either; one after the other, it’s a lot. But we pulled each other through.
I’m back on cardiology now. The number of referrals has shot up and we’re struggling to fit them into normal clinic times. We’re working extra days to keep hitting the referrals, and are bringing in a lot of bank and locum staff to cover extra shifts.
The new variant is not something we’ve been given any instructions to prepare for as yet and we haven’t seen an increase in admissions. Most of the wards which were Covid wards are normal medical wards again. I’m not particularly fearful because I hope that the high vaccination number will help prevent hospitalisation, even if vaccinated people are still able to catch it, but we just never know.
The paramedic, east of England
The mental health of this country is struggling desperately.
The variant first identified in India is really concerning. It’s more transmissible and is spreading exponentially, just as the PM decides to open everything up. I really think we’ll be in another wave by winter. Simply not enough people are vaccinated yet and we just don’t know enough about it.
The mental health of this country is struggling desperately. Crisis teams are absolutely snowed under, and it’s the biggest shame that we fail the mental health of our country. The government has slashed mental health funding, leaving people relying on charities, and it doesn’t have to be like that.
I’m petrified that there’s going to be another [coronavirus] wave. It was one of the worst and scariest experiences in my career, going through the waves, and peaks, and seeing deaths and suffering. Taking people away from their families knowing they’re never going to see them again. The fear in people’s eyes. I don’t want to go through it again, and I don’t want people to go through it again.
We buried another colleague who died from coronavirus last week. In the ambulance service, there’s a sense of shock and numbness about what we’ve been through, as a health service and a country.
The midwife, Greater Manchester
Partners can come to all scans and appointments now, and the women are more relaxed about coming in.
It’s come a year too late, but we’ve finally started testing partners for coronavirus. When all the other areas had no access for visitors, maternity was still open for visitors without a test. It’s like the government thought we were immune to it. We were put in the line of danger, but at least it’s happening now. It’s reassuring, and helps women relax, too – before they tested partners, you didn’t know if someone in the bay might be contagious.
I’m concerned that we don’t have the full data yet about how much more transmissible the new variant is. We have only just been able to have partners in 24/7 and to have to go back to limited visiting again would be a shame.
Some of our colleagues are suffering really badly with long Covid , some can only just work and one of them hasn’t even come back after going off sick last year. Two pregnant women I know of passed away postnatally from coronavirus. I know midwives who have lost many members of their family, and they’re really scared at work. But most people tend to be quite conscious of the safety measures, you just have to get on with it.
The respiratory consultant, London
I’m quite hopeful but it’s far too early to open international travel. Let’s have a normal winter without a new variant.
The vaccination programme has been amazing – it was like someone turned off the tap. By the end of January, hospitalisations started disappearing and by the end of February we were down to a random admission here and there. It was almost like a miracle. We closed our Covid wards at the beginning of March and sometimes now we don’t have a Covid admission for 10 days or so.
At the end of December, during the peak of the second wave, it was like a fire out of control. What took us by surprise was the behaviour of the virus. The fever wasn’t lasting as long so people thought they were fine, but what they hadn’t realised was that their lungs had been eaten out. It was something I never want to see again. We lost so many young people.
We haven’t seen a lot of cases of the new variant first identified in India. I think most of them have been in pockets and among those not vaccinated. We’re not really worried in terms of hospitalisations as we’ve only had one admission.
It’s been tough but I feel lucky to have survived. I don’t think any vaccine will completely bypass all the different variants but at least they will have some efficacy. I’m quite hopeful but it’s far too early to open international travel. Let’s have a normal winter without a new variant, because if I have to go through another year like this one, it might break my resolve.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: ‘Morale is very low’: NHS staff fear ongoing Covid disruption