I must admit, I was apprehensive at going behind the scenes during a pandemic, however I knew the staff there had stories that needed to be told, and that we needed to bust through some of the myths in our online comment section so, in full PPE, I met with staff on Thursday, February 4.
The first thing that hits you when you enter the hospital is the new one-way system in place – this instantly feels real.
Staff greet visitors and instruct them to wear masks and sanitise their hands, before directing you to your chosen clinic or ward.
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The hospital was a little quieter than usual, but was very much open for business, with a steady stream of people entering the main reception.
I met with a number of staff throughout the afternoon from hostesses to nurses, medical directors to critical care consultants – to see how they were coping and what it was like working during these unforeseen circumstances.
The general consensus of opinion is that staff were exhausted, but resilient, and that patient care was still at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
Despite all the safety precautions in place, it was very apparent that we are in a pandemic, with hazard tape and signs on doors urging people not to enter wards where coronavirus patients were being looked after, without enhanced PPE.
You could see the fatigue and pain on the faces of the staff who had witnessed more deaths from a single illness than they had ever seen before.
Many spoke of the number of staff who had contracted the virus from working with positive patients, referring to themselves as ‘ticking time bombs’, worrying about taking the virus home to their families.
The hospital has introduced many measures to support staff’s mental health and, speaking to them, it would seem this support will be critical over the coming months and even years.
The critical care unit usually has nine beds – on one day last week, five coronavirus patients were admitted in a single day so, if you add to that the other patients needing critical medical intervention for other illnesses, it is easy to see why they are at breaking point.
The pandemic has increased the need for CCU beds to three times their normal occupancy, with patients being treated in recovery rooms and operating theatres.
The hospital now has a Covid floor with wards of varying medical need available from critical care through to respiratory physio for those nearing the time to go home.
Staff celebrate when a patient is eventually discharged, even though their joy is short-lived, as they know their bed will be filled within hours.
The recurring message from all staff was this; “Please, help us to help you.”
At this critical juncture, residents of Mansfield and Ashfield are asked to follow the basic advice to social-distance, wear a mask and wash your hands, to avoid the hospital being overwhelmed with cases.
Our incredible hospital needs to see the light at the end of this very dark tunnel.