‘Nothing can prepare you’ – stories from our brave NHS coronavirus frontline staff
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In the coming weeks, social distancing will become the norm for many of us. But what about those on the frontline of our health service, who have no choice but to immerse themselves in the fight back? Clarissa Place reports.
“No amount of training can ever prepare you.”
Many can empathise with that statement. Coronavirus has taken over the daily lexicon, the thoughts and the lives of many, and none more so than frontline NHS staff – the ones we all turn to when we are sick.
With thousands being diagnosed with the Covid-19 virus across the UK, and more battling symptoms at home, pressure is mounting on our health service and its staff.
So what is life like on the frontline?
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Since the outbreak, Public Health England has confirmed 11 positive cases in Norfolk – nine of which are patients treated at the county’s three main hospitals.
With numbers expected to rise, nurses and midwives have shared what the impact has been, their concerns and their calls for support.
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Those who have spoken have shared concerns over levels of protective equipment and the virus taking its toll on staffing levels, but were united in their determination to dig deep and push through to ensure patient safety and deliver the highest levels of care.
A nurse from north Norfolk, who has worked for the NHS for 15 years, said: “No amount of training can ever prepare for what’s happening right now.
“We are stretched beyond all capacity while still trying to provide the safest care to our patients.
“We all have families, finances and the same worries as everyone else about the unknown.
“We are human too but we are the fighting force that just has to keep going with camaraderie, care for each other and amazing community spirit.
“I’m proud to be part of the NHS.”
Another gave an insight into working on a coronavirus ward, treating those with symptoms of the condition.
She called for people to stay home, wash their hands and “stop buying all our masks”.
The nurse said: “Originally, people weren’t that worried but now people are starting to worry.
“Less people are having visitors in. Where people used to park on the kerbs there are loads of spaces now.
“There are two full wards of either confirmed or suspected Covid-19 patients and they’re on other wards as well now. It seems like it is taking over the whole hospital.
“At the moment we always have patients sitting on beds in the corridors.
“There’s a shortage of the filter masks so we’re having to wear the surgical masks now, which I don’t think are as good.”
She said the virus is taking its toll and has left staff vulnerable, with some being kept off work for their own safety. Others are self-isolating and some are stuck abroad after not being able to return from their holidays.
The nurse added: “It’s manic, I don’t sit down. We’re working 12.5-hour shifts and on my last shift I only had 15 minutes break. I just wolfed my food down and then went back.”
The lack of staff is having a knock-on effect on other aspects of people’s care.
“There are people who are medically fit to go home but can’t go either because there is somebody at home self-isolating and the carers can’t go in or the care agency didn’t have the space for them.”
When asked what the public could do to help keep the pandemic under control, they said: “Just be courteous. Wash your hands and stop buying all our masks.
“Stay at home if you can, but also try and help out anyone around you who is elderly or vulnerable.
“Even if you feel like you are one of those healthy people who will be asymptomatic and it won’t affect you, you never know who you might pass it on to if you are out socialising.”
During the outbreak there have been messages advising people not to panic buy, leaving many vulnerable and NHS staff unable to buy food after they finish their shifts.
One nurse said: “I’ve started a group to reach out and share food between us as food, toiletries etc are difficult for us to source when there’s nothing left on the shelves after a 12-hour shift, especially for the poor nurses with no cars.
“We are going to start a box at work to put in essentials for staff to take without feeling embarrassed to ask.
“I wish there was an NHS slot at supermarkets between 8pm to 9pm when you finish work and keep back a few essentials.”
She said the offers of free drinks and discounts were “helpful, lovely, and very touching”.
Away from the hospitals, many staff are continuing as normal with their work in the community, which often requires multiple home visits in a day.
Such examples are midwife teams, who go house to house for appointments, and who are seeing an increasing number of calls from pregnant women concerned about the virus.
One Norfolk midwife said in an ever changing climate, clear advice was key.
This week, the James Paget University Hospital, in Gorleston, confirmed a baby was among its first three positive cases.
She reminded women who are concerned that the World Health Organisation and other medical professions have recorded no evidence the virus can harm foetuses and the best advice was for mums to monitor the baby’s movements.
The midwife said: “Women are looking to us as the source of all knowledge.
“I was driving into work and I knew I would be waiting for the phone calls, the phone lit up like a Christmas tree. These poor women are asking ‘what about my baby?’ I am saying ‘I’ve just heard myself, along with everybody else’. We can only just go on the advice we are given.”
She said the support of managers to ensure equipment was available to do the job was important and new guidelines from the government in relation to key workers took into account individual circumstances.
The midwife said: “It feels we do not have the equipment... In the community at the moment we haven’t been issued with any masks, hand sanitiser. We have absolutely nothing and we are going in and out of houses. We are calling in advance to check no one in the house has any symptoms.”
She said midwives have been asked to carry out appointments over the phone.
The midwife said: “You cannot hear the baby’s heart rate, you cannot measure the tummy to see if the baby is growing, you cannot do a blood pressure check. In the meantime we are to do as much over the phone. It’s really difficult, it’s not good for the women and we are doing our best. It can feel we are doing them a disservice.
“We are clearly pushed to our limit, low staffing, low morale, low in important equipment to do our jobs properly. We are still doing it, we will keep going. I’m working as part of a great team.”
For updates on the outbreak in our region, click here.