On the wards through Covid
Updated: Mar 5
You don’t need me to tell you that the NHS has been pushed to its maximum for 2020. We all read the headlines about Covid – I’m constantly writing articles on it myself – but do we really know what it’s like behind closed doors?
Unless we’re in hospital ourselves, we have no clue how it feels to be on the ‘front line’ battling Covid. Two people that do are Emily and Jane – key workers for the NHS. I spoke to them to get an insight into how the pandemic has affected their jobs, and what their thoughts are for the future of Covid.
Emily – Junior Doctor
Emily said how Covid impacted the end of her studies, so her exams were all remote and graduation was a small party for two in her back garden. Not only this, she was rushed into work earlier than expected too in order to help with the pandemic.
“There was a heavy sense of duty in responding to ‘the call’ for extra bodies on the ‘frontline’ - the militarised language used on the news did not help!
“Those first steps in my long-awaited career as a doctor were so different to what I expected or thought they should be. There was very little celebration, rest or time with my family before moving out of my student house and into a new job.”
She said how the summer months were very quiet as people were staying away from hospital and there was a drop in visitor numbers too.
“Since September, work has become extremely busy due to normal numbers of patients presenting to hospital again plus the increasing number of Covid positive patients. My ward was changed from a respiratory ward to a Covid ward.
“Today, every patient on the ward has a positive swab result. There is a sense of isolation on the ward. Communicating with families and giving updates on the phone has taken on a new importance as they cannot visit. I can imagine how distressing it would be if it were my father or mother in hospital and I was not able to spend time distracting and uplifting them at their bedside. The high standard of care delivered to each patient is a constant, that has not been compromised.”
Unlike many colleagues, Emily has only experience doing her job with full PPE. Although the importance of the protection is known, she stressed that it adds a ‘barrier of communication’ between staff and patients.
As well as this, education has taken a hit for Emily too. She said, “I am aware that this has set back my development, particularly for my examination skills. As junior doctors, we are enrolled in a curriculum of ongoing learning and this has suffered due to lack of space to deliver socially distanced teaching. It has moved online, however it is difficult to find time to go and access online teaching which happens during working hours.”
As writing this, we’re in the second wave of Covid and in a second lockdown too – expected to finish the 2nd December. Although no one wanted the second wave to come, Emily said she felt much more prepared this time around.
“We have the benefit of experience this time and there are strategies to deal with the concerns about limited resources and ethical issues which were novel during the first wave. There is a sense of an improved foothold now in managing Covid and ultimately that will lead to fewer unnecessary deaths.
“Compared to March 2020, I am less anxiety ridden about passing the virus on to my parents or about one of my colleagues dying. Although the majority of Covid patients on my ward are generally doing well, I am concerned that the situation could worsen in the coming weeks.
“There are bleak projections for number of daily deaths in the weeks before Christmas. If these are realised, it will be extremely difficult to summon the emotional reserves to come to work each day.
Emily said how the impact of Covid doesn’t fade once you are out of hospital either, the virus stays with you in other ways.
“I have spoken to many patients who feel like they have deteriorated physically or mentally since the first lockdown. One patient told me he was afraid to go into his garden as his neighbours might be close enough to infect him. He did not leave his house for 12 weeks. The reduced exercise, lack of stimulation and isolation has devastated some people."
In terms of lessons learnt, Emily thinks that more should have been done to encourage outdoor exercise and to maintain a normal way of life with face masks and keeping distance.
“We can only reduce risk of transmission; it cannot be mitigated entirely.”
Of course, it isn’t just the general wards that have been hit by Covid, maternity wards are just the same – babies still keep coming whether we’re in the middle of a pandemic or not!
I spoke to a midwife about what she’s seen working on the wards, and how restrictions have altered the process of labour for expectant mums.
Jane – Midwife
Jane said how PPE was being brought in and the information that was being sent out by management was changing daily – creating ‘a sense of fear and anxiety amongst staff’.
The level of PPE is something that makes their shifts much harder.
“Everyone is getting a taste of this now but imagine working in this for long periods of time, trying to communicate and survive the heat within a delivery room sweating in plastic....it's not great.
“I starting to see some staff falling victim to Covid and in some cases being hospitalised. Seeing the death rate on the news and hearing from the anaesthetists whom also work on the intensive care unit is frightening. Then we go home and realise we are the ones that could put our families at risk, or as my husband reminded me – I was the weak link!”
Jane said how the second wave has actually seen more women testing positively, and consequently more staff have been off too – causes big staff shortages when they’re seeing a big increase in birth rate.
“September is always busy as these are known as Christmas babies. The bookings for December are noticeably higher too which we are putting down as lockdown babies.”
This pressure on staff has shown through by lots of extra shifts for Jane.
“Personally, I have been working extra shifts throughout this – even during my annual leave. The unit is busy and the demands upon the staff are great. It is an area of work that takes advantage of the caring nature of the staff who are attracted to the role.
“For years it has become ‘the norm’ to miss breaks and get off a shift late – we do this because we care for the women, we care for our colleagues.
“I find it difficult to see any normality returning for a long time. Staff are tired and fed up. Management come onto the wards to check we are wearing the correct PPE and socially distancing - if we fail then we are threatened with two weeks suspension with no pay.”
If you've found this interesting, keep an eye out for my next two pieces:
Working through Covid - this covers other industries like hospitality and entertainment
Students in Covid - this covers GCSE students right through to postgraduate degrees