Traumatised intensive care nurses ‘sectioned’ in wake of first wave

In April, three front line staff were pictured wearing clinical waste bags on their heads and feet due to a shortage of PPE, with others reportedly forced to share or buy their own.  

“They were concerned that they were going to pass the virus on to their families, and they were concerned that family members would get it and potentially die,” Ms Credland added.  

And, at the time, “they were looking after patients with the disease that we didn’t understand”, which increased the stresses of the job.  

Staff were also dealing with a “really high mortality rate”.  

“We don’t tend to see six or eight deaths on an intensive care unit, every single day … the sheer volume of deaths we have seen has been really significant,” she said.

Ms Credland is carrying out research into the mental health impact of the pandemic on staff, and, so far, all 55 nurses she has interviewed across the country have experienced some level of “psychological trauma” and are either off sick, or have taken time off.

Heading into the winter, Ms Credland said the mental health impact on staff will “without a doubt” reduce staffing levels. “We’ll see exactly the same with ward-based staff, with other professions as well…this is not just a nursing problem. This is an NHS staffing problem.”

Dr Daniele Bryden, vice-dean of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, said during the first wave highly skilled nurses were redeployed from elsewhere in the NHS to work on the front line, but over the summer they returned to their normal roles.

“That is a concern going forward because we were supported by people who had intensive care training, or were rapidly upskilled in that first wave … [and we] almost certainly won’t have them over the winter,” she said.

“They’ve gone back to the other jobs that they are also needed to do.”

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