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‘The hospitals are very near to not coping’: British health workers speak out

On Monday, for the first time since the early days of the vaccination programme in the UK, new Covid cases outnumbered the number of daily doses administered. As England lifts most restrictions, six healthcare workers from paramedics to paediatricians speak about what the reality is like amid rising coronavirus infections.

The paramedic, east of England

The hospitals are very near to not coping”

It’s horrendous: the hospitals are very near to not coping and our ambulance service is near to declaring REAP level 4 [extreme pressure]. We are seeing a lot more Covid now with cases rising. We’re taking more people into hospital who are really unwell because they’ve had to wait for treatment during lockdown. Their conditions could have been managed if they were seen earlier but now they’re deteriorating and in the acute phase. When you hear about the lifting of restrictions, people seem to forget that it’s not just about people dying of Covid: it’s the cancer patients and the ones on kidney dialysis.

I totally understand people’s frustrations but we’re not in a good enough place. What’s frightening is when the media calls us “heroes” – that’s really dangerous as heroes don’t need to be protected because they don’t die, but we’re just humans, like everyone else. I still have night terrors of taking people away from their loved ones knowing they’re going to die. I’m having therapy but quite often I think: “Shit I can’t do this. I don’t want to do this any more.” I think there’s a lot of that among colleagues as mental health cases are through the roof and people can’t cope.

The paediatrician, north of England

We have seen winter levels of admissions in the emergency department”

For the last few weeks we have seen winter levels of admissions in the emergency department. Modelling suggests numbers have yet to reach their peak. We’re seeing mainly viral respiratory-tract infections in children, and it’s expected that these numbers are going to get worse. It’s because the kids normally would have been exposed to these in the winter, but they were locked down and are therefore not immune now. Another concern is rising cases of children with PIMS, which is a post-infectious viral infection that is quite rare but can be very serious, with some children needing intensive care treatment.

There are also insufficient numbers of psychiatric beds for children, which means we have significant numbers of kids with mental health issues presenting in acute medical paediatric units, where they’re now stuck. Overall, it’s unsustainable working in this environment, and made worse with staff absences due to self-isolation. Because of such high levels of admissions, elective surgical cases are being cancelled. An elective non-urgent case will at some point become urgent if not dealt with in a timely fashion. I think the decision not to vaccinate children is reckless. They should all be offered vaccines.

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