A hospital chief in the Midlands said staff are refusing to work on the Covid front line again and this is ‘downing tools’. The head of a London hospital said staff are ‘worn out and quite frightened’
Over-stretched and traumatised nurses are refusing to be redeployed to Covid wards, hospital bosses around the country have warned.
After spending months on the frontline of the pandemic, staff have been exposed to trauma and stress, with little psychological support.
Now, as the new Omicron strain threatens to put further pressure on the NHS, there are fears that the number of hospitalisations and deaths could rise this winter.
Yesterday, scientists from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) said Omicron could cause between 25,000 to 75,000 deaths in England over the next five months if further restrictions are not introduced.
However, a hospital chief from the Midlands said critical care is already at 130 per cent bed occupancy.
He said the hospital was planning to expand into other areas as a contingency plan, but this will not be possible as staff who worked in previous Covid waves are now refusing to be on the frontline again.
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He explained: “It was voluntary before and now they’re saying no. We are getting people, from a critical care perspective, downing tools. So we can’t expand further.”
The head of a London NHS hospital told The Sunday Times : “I’ve got a lot of staff who have said they’re not going back on to Covid wards and I think you’ve got to pay attention when people are saying that.
“People are pretty worn out and quite frightened about being redeployed into Covid wards again. They don’t want to go there again.”
A study carried out by the University of Bath found that staff felt “overwhelmed” during the pandemic and do not want to go through the same stress again.
According to the study, NHS doctors are angry at being treated as “Covid cannon fodder” rather than heroes.
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It is the first research to capture the views of more than 1,300 doctors in the UK and Ireland responding to Covid-19 since early 2020.
It has been authored by researchers from the Universities of Bath and Bristol, UWE Bristol and the Royal College of Emergency Medicine and paints a bleak picture of the multiple challenges doctors are facing.
Despite working at permanent maximum capacity, the medics told researchers of their frustrations at those not following public health advice, and towards the Government for failing to support them.
One senior doctor said: “I feel, at times, that I am considered totally expendable and that, if I die or become ill, not only will it have been preventable with political will, I will simply be an inconvenient statistic. I’m not a Covid hero, I’m Covid cannon fodder.”
A junior doctor said: “Knowing the Government was failing in so many ways to support us… failed Test and Trace, failed PPE procurement, weak messaging, permitted non-compliance with mask-wearing and distancing, set a poor example (Barnard Castle, etc).
“We as healthcare providers were alone and utterly unsupported, apart from the weekly round of applause that was a pointless gesture and felt like a kick in the teeth.”
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Jo Daniels, a clinical psychologist who led the research, said nurses have been through trauma with no respite or support.
The researcher said: “Some of the stories frontline workers told us about for this research are truly devastating: last moments spent trying to set up an iPad in time for a young mother to say goodbye to her children; wrestling to intubate agitated patients; family members watching loved ones die remotely via video-link.
“Added to this is the scale – the sheer number of frontline workers for whom these experiences have just become normalised – these results are truly shocking.
“We are seeing increasing levels of staff attrition, absenteeism, poor psychological health, and loss of life, yet frontline doctors are expected to just carry on.
“Despite the popular media narrative of healthcare workers being our Covid-19 heroes, many simply do not feel that way in terms of how they are being supported.”
Professor Edd Carlton, from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: “What is most worrying is that Covid-19 has compounded issues that were already commonplace pre-pandemic and now are putting a tangible strain on doctors’ own physical and mental health.
“As the NHS attempts to recover, this research shows that there needs to be a renewed focus on properly supporting doctors to protect their health and wellbeing so that they can be there for all of us when we most need them.”
The study, It’s Been Ugly: A Large-Scale Qualitative Study Into The Difficulties Frontline Doctors Faced Across Two Waves Of The Covid-19 Pandemic, is published in the journal International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.