Stacey Richardson, a nurse in north east England, explains how health workers have been impacted by the pandemic and the dire state of hospitals right now

The beginning of the pandemic came with a huge wave of anticipation. There were going to be big changes but we were not sure what. Whispers and rumours travelled through teams, even our own surgeons had no real idea of what was happening. From high-level protective equipment training to minimal PPE. Hour by hour, minute by minute things were changing.

Many clinical areas became Covid areas. Teams were divided. Many remain this way. For the next five or so months routine surgery was cancelled. The backlog of cancelled cases mounted, some wards were quiet. The trauma cases received excellent nursing care because there were more staff than there were patients. Patients we then had capacity for sat at home, waiting and potentially worsening both physically and mentally. Patients we were ready and equipped to deal with. 

The lockdown was serious, the public actually seemed to care for the most part. I had not sat in my own living room for months, saying hello to my parents through the patio doors. I was homesick. Our patients could not be any more protected, but we continued to live in fear.

As the lockdown ended, wards returned to being the bustling areas they once were. Hospitals began trying to catch up with elective patients on top of trauma. Waiting for patients’ Covid status results as well as trying to organise closed beds for vulnerable shielded patients. Some patients certainly suffered for the longer wait for their surgery, making recovery longer and more complicated for them.

The hospitals are now the busiest they have ever been. The cancellation and postponement of services during the first wave has caused chaos. Delayed diagnosis, treatment and surgical intervention and the lack of monitoring of those with complex health needs without doubt nationally is and will continue to have a detrimental effect on our patients. 

Controlled patient admissions during the first wave may have been more effective – chronic illness does not stop during a pandemic and patients continue to require specialist care. However, the long-standing understaffing of the NHS once again is highlighted. Hospitals are once again forced to “borrow Peter to pay Paul” due to lack of appropriate staff and resources to support both Covid and non-Covid patients. 

NHS staff across the board are tired now. Physically, but much more so mentally. Respect has been lost, despite the fact that Covid continues to rip through the country. Some appear to think they are invincible, yet more than ever young and fit 20-30 year olds are lying in ITU beds ventilated.

This is our real time of stress and need. Gone are the rainbows, the applauds and any promise of a much-needed pay rise. This is the real struggle as our hospitals juggle nursing the sickest of Covid patients with our trauma, complex and chronically ill patients.

Victims who lost their lives to coronavirus were once people. They were faces on the news with families. Now these victims are desensitised to a benign numerical update and there are too many faces to show. Let us not forget each number was a mother, father, daughter, brother, grandmother or uncle. The loss of every life is a tragedy.

The government have time and time again failed to follow science, this has resulted in catastrophic damage. The only way forward and our glimmer of hope is mass vaccination as well as an effective zero-Covid strategy. Hopefully, this is a light at the end of a very long tunnel. We still have a way to go yet, the damage will continue, as will the fight to make the government prioritise saving lives. My hope is for a more positive summer this year, though the impact of the pandemic will last forever.

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