Healthcare workers have warned of concerns the NHS is “sleepwalking into a potential second wave”, with staff reporting burnout and fears their hospitals will again be overwhelmed.
Dr Samantha Batt-Rawden, President of the Doctors‘ Association UK (DAUK), told the Standard a combination of lack of testing even for NHS workers and low morale is leaving many staff afraid of what is to come this winter.
“Doctors are becoming incredibly concerned that we are sleepwalking into a potential second wave, without seemingly having learnt any lessons from the first. With the collapse of test and trace and NHS staff being unable to access a test it feels that we are back where we were in early March,” she said. “With little reassurances that the Government has learnt any lessons regarding PPE, the thought that we could lose more colleagues is weighing heavily on the minds of frontline doctors.”
Last week the Standard exposed the full scale of the Covid testing crisis in London after an investigation found appointments were not available to book online in any borough.
At the height of the first wave in March, healthcare workers had to turn to schools and building sites for goggles and masks as NHS England struggled to provide adequate PPE.
A junior doctor working with Covid patients in A&E at a major London hospital throughout the pandemic, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Standard: “We are all very concerned about a second wave. As the numbers rise I’m worried that we will get overwhelmed again.”
Another junior doctor, who worked on a north London Covid ward throughout the first wave and who also wished to remain unnamed to protect his career, told the Standard his colleagues are burnt out and “already dreading” having to return to a “horrendous” Covid-19 staff rota.
He reported staff feeling that appreciation for NHS workers has vanished as society opened up over summer.
The medic said: “I am very concerned about a second wave.
“There is very much a feeling of burnout. People don’t want to go back to the emergency COVID rota. It’s horrendous and people are already dreading it.
“All the benefits we had are now gone. It feels like the country has forgotten.”
Many London nurses and junior doctors worked 8pm to 8am shifts in full PPE with ever-changing schedules as the first wave hit London between March and June.
The healthcare workers also had to deal with the fear they were bringing the virus home to their families, with many Covid ward staff reporting moving out into Airbnb accommodation to mitigate the risk. The cost reduced a pay packet many healthcare workers are claiming already does not adequately compensate staff for the huge risks taken during the pandemic.
NHS staff were offered free parking, discounts on food and free coffees at the height of the pandemic, but many of these perks have since been withdrawn.
Dr Batt-Rawden added: “Whilst NHS staff rose to the challenge of Covid admirably there is no doubt that many are burnt out and bruised after a very difficult few months. Recent Government decisions including leaving nurses, junior doctors and GPs out of an “NHS pay rise” has left many feeling abandoned.”
The Covid ward doctor said that although “it is early days”, he hopes hospitals would be able to handle a second wave better than the first.
“The hospital has data and evidence from the first wave so it’s more set up to handle it medically and from an operational point of view,” he said. “But numbers are rising and it’s early days in this wave.
“It is still hard to know how hard it [the virus] will hit, and if they’ll be able to cope. The big issues will be staff going off sick and managing flow of patients back to the community if they are still testing positive.”
Both medics urged Londoners to take personal responsibility for avoiding spreading the virus.
The Covid ward doctor said: “Government can only do so much, it’s the population that have to take responsibility for their actions and be sensible. Lots of people are not being considerate of the wider population.”
“So many of my patients, friends and family roll their eyes when I advise social distancing,” the A&E doctor added. “It’s hard being the doctor in the family, seeing Covid first hand and then not being taken seriously anymore.
“What younger patients are forgetting is that even though they are unlikely to die if they get Covid, if they pass it on the hospitals will become overwhelmed again. If that happens, who will treat them for their broken legs, and heart attacks, and arterial bleeds?
“This pandemic affects everyone and everything and it’s hard when others don’t see that the way I do. All I want us for my patients to be safe.”
The Department for Health and Social Care has been contacted for comment.