Medics on UK’s front line say health service ‘deliberately putting people in harm’s way’

Doctors, nurses and paramedics tell ‘The National’ of their dire struggle

UK hospitals struggling to cope with Covid-19 infections

UK hospitals struggling to cope with Covid-19 infections
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Frontline medical staff have told The National of the dire circumstances they face from mutant coronavirus infections, warning that Britain's health system is at breaking point.

Parts of the UK are in the strictest lockdown yet, and the National Health Service says hospitals could be overwhelmed within 21 days.

With the infection rate surging to more than 60,000 new cases on Tuesday, emergency measures are being put in place to cope with the strain.

Medical staff are being posted to accident and emergency departments and intensive-care units to make up for shortfalls in staff.

Emergency call centres have to decide who has highest priority for ambulances, with some people left waiting for hours.

Nurses have spoken about their fear of not being able to treat patients or diagnose their problems properly as they are asked to fill others’ roles.

There is worry and anger among frontline staff in England that they are not being given priority for the vaccine while dealing with infected patients daily.

The National spoke to nurses, doctors and paramedics who all described a disturbing situation for the NHS as Britain enters national lockdown.


LIVERPOOL, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 05:  Ambulances line up as government sponsored electronic sign gives out coronavirus pandemic information to visitors and staff outside the Royal Liverpool University Hospital on January 05, 2021 in Liverppol, United Kingdom. The Prime Minister yesterday announced a new lockdown with tougher Covid-19 measures following a sharp increase of cases, driven in part by a new variant of the virus that officials say is more infectious. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Ambulances line up outside the Royal Liverpool University Hospital. Getty

“I think we’re getting into a whole different world where we’re having to accept something that the NHS hasn’t done before, which is deliberately putting people in harm’s way,” said a paramedic manager in England.

“It’s all the way from frontline operational staff to people in control rooms, to admin staff, to strategic managers and directors.

“There are decisions that have to be made and scenarios that we’re in that, frankly, no one’s ever been in in living history.

“I’ve never seen the level of demand on the health service that we’ve got now. It is huge.

“I think everybody’s just waiting and watching to see what’s going to happen. Are we in a third wave now? Probably. Were we lulled into a false sense of security? Possibly.

“We all knew from working on the first wave that things could certainly get worse. What you see now is that it’s a very delicate position.

“We are very, very busy dealing with Covid. If we now get another incident on top of that, that puts us into massive pressure.”

Accident and emergency nurse

One of five Covid-19 wards at Whiston Hospital in Merseyside. A medical director at the hospital has said the need to continue operations at the same time as treating coronavirus patients has "significantly complicated" the second wave. (Photo by Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images)
Nurses are working all day with Covid-19 patients. Getty

“I was redeployed from my normal area of expertise into adult A&E doing rapid assessment for Covid patients,” said a nurse at a major hospital in south-east England.

“In all my 20 years of nursing I have never felt so scared in case I did something wrong. I certainly don’t want to do anything as a nurse that is to the detriment of my patient.

“But demand is very high in A&E at the moment and they need people to rapidly assess adult Covid-positive patients for respiratory support.

Hopefully I will get the vaccine in a few days

“There is just a constant need for rapid assessment for adults requiring respiratory support.

“It was very tough with a constant stream of patients and you are working in PPE, which is quite claustrophobic. I feel like I just survived the shift.

“You are working with Covid-positive patients all day long and you don’t have the vaccine as a frontline NHS nurse, then you hear about people who are not dealing with Covid patients receiving it ahead of you.

“That is really quite difficult to understand, but hopefully I will get the vaccine in a few days.

“I have young children back home and after every shift I’m coming back in full uniform having dealt with Covid patients all day, and worry about the potential of infection in my own household.”

Intensive care nurse Helen Whyley

Health workers wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE) tend to a patient on the intensive care unit (ICU) at Whiston Hospital in Merseyside as they continue deal with the increasing number of coronavirus patients. (Photo by Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images)
'When you are in the ambulance with Covid-19 patients there is an ever-present danger.' Getty

“It’s fair to say that this situation is completely unprecedented,” said Helen Whyley, who is also the Royal College of Nursing director in Wales.

“I’m speaking to nurses who’ve got 30 years-plus of experience who are describing scenarios in hospitals that are hugely challenging, seeing people coming into our hospitals who were really quite acutely ill.

We could get to the point where the NHS can't cope

“We’ve got people who can’t see their families and sometimes they’re having to say goodbye to their families across a virtual platform, so I think you really see the skill of nursing in doing that, and getting the time and space to do that as best as it can be done.

“To really let people have that time to make the relationships, even if it is virtual, and then promise to be there to hold their hands.

“And that’s really hard. We can’t over-emphasise just what a challenge it is to the human spirit.

“It’s extraordinarily emotive at the moment and challenging for nurses who are right there in ICUs. We’ve been doing this for nearly 11 months, so people are at the point of exhaustion.

“The public have to follow the guidance. If the public don’t follow the rules, then the number of transmissions will increase.

“And if those transmissions increase, we could get to the point where the NHS can’t cope.”

General practitioner

London Ambulance staff stretcher a patient from the ambulance into The Royal London Hospital in east London, on January 2, 2021. Health Services are under increasing pressure after record levels of daily lab-confirmed cases of Covid-19 has led to more patients being treated in hospital in England than during the initial peak of the outbreak in April. / AFP / DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS
Health services in Britain are under increasing pressure. AFP

“We need to set up two mass vaccination centres that we hope to be up and running by the end of this month, but it’s going to be a real challenge.

“There is a considerable amount of process to go through and funding required in order to get the staff we need to administer the vaccine.

“We will need the government to provide us with more resources to staff the vaccination process as staff are thin on the ground.

“That has been promised but we just need to see that come through if they want us to go at the pace they’ve asked for.”