The coronavirus pandemic has placed a huge strain on the NHS, with critical care units bursting at the seams, operations cancelled and staff sickness all placing hospital workers under unprecedented levels of stress.
On a recent visit to Sutton’ King’s Mill Hospital, we spoke to colleagues about how the workforce were coping with the demands of the pandemic.
Chief nurse Julie Hogg’s role is to ensure the wellbeing of her staff, and says Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is implementing a number of schemes for hospital staff to help them deal with the strain of the year-long pandemic.
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She said: “The staff are very traumatised – they are seeing levels of death and grief they have never seen before – patients are deteriorating very quickly and we think staff will struggle for months and years to come.
"The family liaison service is helping bridge the gap, but seeing patients unable to have their loved ones with them is so much harder than in normal circumstances.”
The trust has introduced ‘safe spaces’ for colleagues in the form of ‘wellbeing dens’ and have introduced a counselling service for staff which Julie says will be in place long term to aid staff who are beginning to struggle, some of whom she says are ‘only just realising’ they need help.
"The help we are introducing will be long term,” she added.
"Some staff are only just realising the impact this has had on them, so this help will be available for as long as it is needed.”
Simone Batty is a senior staff nurse in the critical care unit and admits the pandemic has been difficult both physically and psychologically.
Having worked at the hospital for six years, Simone says she is ‘used to death’ but admits many staff are struggling.
She said: “Of course we are used to death, but not this volume and within such a short space of time.
"It has been a real eye opener – some patients don’t feel that unwell, and can be chatting away to their family on the phone and suddenly crash, which makes it even harder for their families to understand and deal with."
Simone admits that she has been very focused on the task in hand, and has chosen not to stop and think too much, but admits the time will come when she needs to process what she has been through.
"Some staff have already gone off with stress – we fight so hard for every patient, so to lose them can be really hard to deal with,” she added.
"I haven’t really sat down to think about it, but the time will come, and we have clinical psychologists on hand to help.”
The effects of the pandemic are being felt by staff in all departments.
Sally Mellers is a ward hostess who works across many of the hospital’s wards, to ensure patients are well looked after.
She admits her jobs is usually enjoyable, as her role is to be the smiling face which patients are usually pleased to see as she enters their room with refreshments, however the past year has been ‘crazy’ and she has struggled with being unable to care for patients in her usual way.
She said: “My job is great – I make sure patients are OK after operations, and am the person they are usually pleased to see, as I’m not there to poke and prod them, just give them refreshments and see if they need anything.
"This has been hard though – patients are scared and can’t have visitors, and I can’t even hold their hand to reassure them.
"I have to keep my distance and wear full PPE for each patient, which means I spend less time with each person and can’t interact with them how I’m used to.”
She also admits staff feel like a ‘ticking time bomb’ and are worried they may bring the virus home to their families.
She added: "It is scary, but staff are beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel now, and the mood is much more positive than it was before Christmas – we all just hope people continue to stick to the rules so we can come out of the other side.”
Diane Scott is the deputy ward leader for the hospital's respiratory ward, dealing with coronavirus patients both during treatment and in their recovery from the virus.
She says her staff feel mixed emotions, as they are seeing patients pass away despite their best efforts to save them, but also get to experience the highs of seeing patients recover and eventually get discharged home.
Coronavirus patients often require intense physiotherapy to wean them off of oxygen, as the virus attacks the lungs and leaves them dependant on help to breathe.
Staff on the respiratory wards are working long shifts and many are falling ill – meaning colleagues are stretched to their limits, but Diane says morale is still high, and more patients are now being discharged after successfully beating the virus.
Diane said: “We are all working so hard – our normal shifts are 12 hours, so we are used to long days, but seeing young previously-healthy people struggling to breathe is really difficult.
"Staff are still in good spirits though – we have had some wonderful volunteers bringing us treats such as cakes, drinks and even Domino’s pizza, which cheers them up.
"You can see though, that everyone from domestics through to doctors are just tired now.
"It’s been a long 12 months, but hopefully we are now coming out of the other side.
"If people can just listen to government advice and stick to the rules, hopefully we can get back to some kind of normal soon.”