Senior staff member lifts lid on 'desperate' situation in N&N

A nurse wearing PPE works on a patient in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) in St George's Hospital in T

Norfolk's hospitals are at 90pc capacity (Stock image) - Credit: PA

Nurses are breaking down in tears and coronavirus victims are dying with little privacy at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital as it nears capacity, a senior staff member said today.

Speaking out because she says many people do not realise how desperate the situation is, the staff member said wards were being overwhelmed.

The NNUH is treating more than 300 coronavirus patients and is at 90pc capacity, with numbers continuing to rise. Its chief nurse said it was in a "fight" and called on anyone who could to help it.

Inside the wards

Sobbing as she described the crisis on the wards, the staff member said: “It is dreadful in there. Covid patients are dying in bays with other patients right next to them. They should be in a side room but there is no space.

Hospital staff on one of five Covid-19 wards at Whiston Hospital in Merseyside where patients are ta

Admissions of Covid patients have soared in hospitals in January (Stock image) - Credit: PA

"Normally, if someone is approaching end of life we try to get them in a private room and allow visitors, but as we have not got any side rooms left we can't. These people are dying in a six-bed bay with other patients around them."

She added: "Sometimes we don’t even know someone has died until the next morning. 

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"Healthcare assistants do regular observations but unfortunately we've had cases where they have gone in in the morning and the patient has already died.

"This is not a case of neglect. We have got young, newly qualified nurses being left with 18 Covid patients each on night shifts. 

“They are in floods of tears and distraught. Even for an experienced nurse it is too much."

A hospital spokesman said that no patient was left overnight without being checked.

She said on Sunday, one ward had five deaths in just one afternoon.

"I know management can't do anything about it, but please admit to the public what is really happening," she added.

"It may stop people going out. People need to know what it is really like in here.” 

A hospital spokesman said staffing levels were managed and reviewed on a daily basis.

Since Saturday, the hospital has reported another 11 Covid deaths, bringing the total to 248.

The NNUH has expanded its number of intensive care beds to 80 and a spokesman said it still had critical care capacity.

But the staff member said the real issue was staff shortages.

'Above and beyond'

To cope with the pressure, nurses are being moved into Covid wards from other parts of the NHS, but the staff member said that can cause other problems.  

“You’ve got staff who have never worked on medical wards, being drafted into inpatient wards looking after 12 patients each. The experienced ward nurses, meanwhile, are moved to critical care, leaving very few experienced ones left on Covid wards."

Unison told its members at the hospital on Monday that they may be asked to work in other departments with staffing shortfalls.

Branch secretary Andy Campling said: "Staff have been going above and beyond throughout the pandemic but we’ve been clear to managers that when staff have to be redeployed it has to be safe and in line with NHS guidelines."

Critical care, where more than 30 of the sickest Covid patients are being treated, is also facing a staff shortage.  

At the end of December, a message from management asked anyone who could to help by doing critical care shifts, even if they had no experience. 

Outbreaks spread

Only a handful of the NNUH's wards are now Covid-free following a string of outbreaks. 

Management told staff on Monday that outbreaks had spread to wards including Kimberley, Langley, Guist and Mulbarton, which is a cancer ward.

There are also outbreaks in Kilverstone, dietetics, dermatology, Denton, Edgefield and Ingham. 

Denton is the latest ward to be turned “red”, meaning it is for confirmed Covid patients. 

But the worker said staff on those red wards were only now getting the protection they needed. 

Vaccinations began on Sunday, with hundreds of staff getting the jab. Before that the hospital was prioritising vulnerable staff rather than those working on the red wards. 

Staff at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital has administered nearly 5000 coronavirus vaccinations since December 9.

The NNUH is upping its vaccination programme - Credit: NNUH

She also said over the weekend staff were given the heavier-duty FFP3 masks to protect them for the first time. 

"This is being done as fast as possible but may take a few days," a message sent to staff said. The hospital said this was above national guidance which only required staff to wear surgical masks.

"We were very lucky to escape the worst of the first wave in Norfolk," the staff member added. "But this time we are not getting away with it and we're not prepared enough. We are all frightened."

Mr Campling added: "Covid-19 is taking a real toll on health workers and many staff are well past breaking point after a year battling this pandemic. Staff shortages are getting worse as more people go off sick or shield.

“What NHS workers really need is real recognition for the work they’ve done over the last year. Government ministers must move forward quickly with real pay rises for health staff.”

When will it peak?

The staff member's description of life on the wards was supported last week by other frontline staff who said the sheer number of patients admitted at the NNUH was "horrendous". 

“We're all anxious," said another. "People have to know and be more aware and take it more seriously.”

The NNUH is a regional surge centre meaning it is taking patients from over-stretched hospitals in other parts of east England. Around a third of patients are from outside the area.  

In a BBC TV news report, shot inside the NNUH’s critical care department last week, staff also described the "scary" conditions.

Anaesthetic consultant Deborah Easby told the BBC: “We are just overwhelmed with the number of sick patients. 

“I think we will become more and more stretched and it will become more and more difficult.” 

There are more than 700 coronavirus patients in hospital in Norfolk and Waveney - the equivalent of an entire hospital - and up 20pc in a week. 

But experts do not expect the numbers in hospital to begin to ease until late February or early March, leaving the entire NHS with a desperate few weeks ahead of it.

'This is a fight'

NNUH chief nurse Professor Nancy Fontaine. Photo: NNUH

NNUH chief nurse Professor Nancy Fontaine. Photo: NNUH - Credit: NNUH

The hospital has put out requests for volunteers and staff to help it through the crisis.

Chief nurse, Professor Nancy Fontaine, said: “This is the biggest challenge the NHS has faced in its history and we are calling on all people who are or have been involved in care to work alongside me and the team at the NNUH.

"This is a fight. Whatever your skill or talent, come and stand side by side with us to help us support the patients and staff at NNUH.

"We know that the current situation is extremely challenging for our teams who are working above and beyond at a time of high infection rates in the community and we have increased our critical care capacity in response to rising Covid admissions.”

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