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The Secret Nurse: ‘The start of the pandemic was more bearable than today’

3 min read

No one can have failed to notice that Covid has placed NHS hospital staff under immense strain, but what does that actually look like? The Secret Nurse tells it like it is

Eighteen months on from my hospital ward being temporarily turned into a dedicated Covid ward, my team is still struggling to cope with the burden of the ongoing pandemic.

We have once again returned to caring for patients with Covid. Staff are regularly self-isolating, with others having to work reduced hours while they recover from the harsh effects of long-Covid. To help ease the strain on some wards, staff are redistributed every day – not just between wards – but put in taxis and moved between sites.

Due to the spontaneity of positive cases and the high rates of sickness among staff, as I write this article I am not even sure where I will be working tomorrow. This itself is further adding to the rate of burnout among NHS staff, with everyone constantly having to adapt to working in new environments and with a new team of colleagues.

There is tension between staff and unvaccinated patients

My hospital’s situation is mirrored across the UK. This month, NHS England published data showing at least 80,000 members of staff are recording absent every day, with 44 per cent of these absences being attributed to Covid-19. We are under increased pressure to discharge patients to cope with the massive influx of hospital admissions. We have barely enough staff to deal with ward management, let alone the increasing movement created by the demand for beds.

Most patients do empathise with us; however, this frequently results in them not asking for the help they really need, in some cases instead choosing to sit in pain – or their own bodily fluids. At the other end of the spectrum, some patients have been driven to their wits’ end. And although we actively encourage people to complain, infuriatingly but not surprisingly, nothing ever changes.

There is also tension between staff and unvaccinated patients. Statistics prove that receiving at least one dose of the vaccine will reduce the chances of hospitalisation and, with that, the burden brought upon NHS hospital staff. Even still, some staff who have refused the vaccine are now under threat of unemployment from 1 April. Given our already chronic staffing crisis, I doubt these plans can go ahead safely.

NHS staff who are currently unvaccinated are so for a variety of reasons, some due to the misinformation spread on social media – much of which has become far too convincing.

Introducing mandatory Covid-19 vaccination for NHS staff will, of course, protect both patients and staff from contracting and spreading the virus, but it will compound failing efforts to provide safe care for our patients if we lose huge numbers of staff quickly, with little time to prepare. Efforts to retain staff are already failing and there does not appear to be a light at the end of this very dark tunnel.

I am tired of the relentless hold this virus has on healthcare. Every day I work so hard to give the best care to my patients and go home feeling like I couldn’t do anywhere near my best for them. I know many of my NHS colleagues working in hospitals and the wider community feel the same.

News reports describe the NHS as “being on its knees”. It now feels the state we were in at the start of the pandemic was more bearable than it is today. So, when will there be a turning point? How will the government support us in ways that make a real difference? Hopefully it will be less insulting than the empty gesture of hitting a pan with a wooden spoon at 8pm. 


The secret nurse is a ward sister for the NHS.

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