National Health Service (NHS) workers across the UK have told NHS FightBack their anger at the Johnson government’s refusal to even acknowledge the scale of the crisis produced by the Omicron surge, let alone d ‘act against it.
Repeated promises to keep the NHS from being overwhelmed have been trashed, as each day brings a new record number of infections and hospitalizations.
The UK reported 189,213 new COVID cases on December 30, up 116% in one week. Deaths are up 332, up 127% from a week ago.
A total of 11,452 people were hospitalized in England with COVID-19 on the morning of December 30, an increase of almost 1,000 in a single day and 61% in a week. More than 500 children were admitted to hospital with Covid in the week leading up to Boxing Day, December 26. This number will increase massively as infections become apparent during the Christmas holiday period, to which will soon be added New Year’s celebrations.
Experts from the University of Warwick have warned that COVID infections in England could reach 1.4 million per day and 3,000 deaths per day if no further action is taken, even assuming Omicron does not is only half as serious as Delta. Daily hospitalizations could reach 15,000.
The only action taken in response has been to announce plans to set up coronavirus ‘surge hubs’, primarily in hospital parking lots, to meet the challenge of a new wave of Omicron variant admissions. So far, that involves building eight temporary “Nightingale” units this week, each housing just 100 patients, with plans to identify sites for an additional 4,000 beds if needed. No plan has been announced for staffing these extra beds. NHS England has yet to officially request military support, but no other options are available.
The latest available data from NHS England (December 19) recorded 18,829 NHS staff in acute trusts absent for COVID-19 reasons, up 54% from 12,240 a week earlier.
Hospitals have also been asked to review their mortuary facilities.
An NHS worker in the North West of England explained how stress and fatigue further exacerbate staff absences. “Everyone is just tired and fed up. The stress of being in a COVID department, and the risk of it happening again, perhaps worse with Omicron, tires people out.
“A number of us have taken time off throughout this year due to stress. Almost all of us have had COVID to varying degrees. I spoke to consultants, doctors, nurses who all said that sometimes when they were sick with the virus they felt like they were going to die. “
Serious problems arose in the wards when patients were transferred before their COVID status was confirmed.
“We had a recent outbreak, a patient was sent from another hospital before the swab results came back – that’s common, to move patients to beds. The results came back positive, so we had to treat the entire bay of six patients as positive. “
A medical student interning in an accident and emergency department explained how inconsistencies in staff meant that “doctors cannot delegate tasks properly and are forced to make decisions on the spot based on the situations on that day- there “leading to” a compromise in patient care, as well as stress and exhaustion for NHS staff. “
Staff shortages meant that a strict triage system was enforced, whereby only the most urgent ‘red’ group of patients received immediate attention. “Patients on the ‘amber’ and ‘green’ lists have to wait until all other severe patients are seen, which can take from a few hours to a few days.”
One patient had to wait two days before being offered a cabin to begin treatment, “One of the main reasons this is happening is understaffing.”
The limited number of doctors and nurses compared to the growing number of A&E has created a “lose-lose situation, where staff work far beyond their capabilities, while patients do not receive the proper care they need. ‘they deserve”.
A nurse working for the University Hospitals Dorset NHS Foundation Trust said 159 of her colleagues were currently away with symptoms of COVID-19, double the number last week, and another 65 were isolating or protecting. “Last week, the swab team isolated themselves after some of them contracted the virus.”
Staff shortages meant hundreds of shifts were announced for agency nurses over the next few days. “Many will not be satisfied even if they include incentives of £ 50 to £ 100 per shift.”
This meant that not only normal wards, but also special units, including intensive care and the emergency department, would operate with dangerously low manpower.
“A colleague in the intensive care unit told me that a nurse sometimes had to care for three critically ill patients. “
Under such circumstances, a single small incident or lack of focus or mistake could easily compromise patient safety. He described the emergency department as “under tremendous pressure almost every day,” with dozens of ambulances waiting outside the unit to hand over patients.
“Some days paramedics have to spend their entire shift (over 11 hours) waiting outside. “
Bed occupancy rates were dangerously high: “more often than not, bed occupancy exceeds 95%. This creates enormous problems for the patients as well as for the staff. The sleep and rest of patients are constantly disturbed, even at night, as they have to be moved to accommodate other people waiting for beds.
“We have been under relentless and constant pressure over the past 20 months, and it does not appear to be easing.”
According to the nurse, “The hospital is going to be inundated with COVID-19 patients immediately following the holiday season and we will have to face the full burden of this disaster, with fewer already exhausted staff.”
Patient care has already suffered in the last period. “Over 52,000 patients are waiting for their elective procedures to be performed in our trust. More than 3,000 of them waited more than a year.
“We understand patients’ needs very well, but we cannot meet them because we do not have enough staff. It’s a mentally exhausting and morale-breaking situation. “
The government’s decision to let the coronavirus ravage the population over Christmas and New Years will lead to even more cases in early 2022, and inevitably more deaths.
A young nurse working in London said Breastfeeding time, “Several members of my team have had to take time off due to contact with Covid cases or tests themselves positive, which then leads to increased pressure on the most senior to orchestrate a decline in staff and also on those still able to work. and having to pick up the pace with fewer staff to help.
The nurse said the situation “looked like a setback until March 2020, except that in March 2020 I felt a lot more optimistic than today”.
A former nurse wrote on Twitter: “The main reason I’m angry with our government: I was a #ICUnurse, I’m now a nurse who reluctantly quit the job she once loved. I am the nurse who ended up suffering from anxiety and depression. I am the nurse who suffers from sleep paralysis and frequent nightmares. My life has changed forever.
An article in Nursing Notes published yesterday, titled “As Winter Hits, More Than Half of Nurses Looking to Leave,” garnered nearly two hundred comments on Facebook in a matter of hours.
Paul wrote: “I have lost 5 nurses in my intensive care unit in the last 3 months and more are expected to leave not only the ward but also the nursing completely.”
Many said they were eager to retire and would never think of returning. A recently graduated nurse said she was considering looking for another job, and a nurse on maternity leave said: “I’m afraid to go back. If I’m being honest, it makes me very anxious.
Georgie said she had to be away for six months because of the depression and stress. “I have to be home in a week and terrified!”
The WSWS urges all NHS and social service workers to Contact us with their experiences. For more information visit Fight against the NHSand share your experiences of the pandemic and working conditions.