‘Exhausted’ NHS staff fear there’s no end in sight
Midwife dies after coronavirus infection
08 January, 2021 — By Tom Foot
A midwife who had been working as the Whittington for 13 years has died after an infection
A MIDWIFE has died from Covid-19 in the latest chilling reminder of the dangers facing NHS hospital staff on the coronavirus frontline.
Friends and colleagues at the Whittington Hospital were mourning again after the mother-of-two – who had worked at the hospital in Highgate for 13 years – passed away last week.
She was described as “hard-working and very popular” and “well liked by all”.
The Whittington would not comment on the death following a request from her family, but said an official cause of death had not yet been established.
A colleague said she had died “from Covid”, adding: “She loved her family, husband and two children who are devastated by her loss. Our maternity unit is shaken by her death. We are all heartbroken.” An online fundraiser has been set up to give her a “fitting send-off”.
News of the death came amid a grim start to the New Year, which saw:
- Multiple sources contact the New Journal this week saying the three main hospitals serving Camden patients are overwhelmed following the dramatic spread of the new Covid variant.
- Prime Minister Boris Johnson order a new national lockdown which will last for at least seven weeks.
- Warnings that one in every 30 people in the capital now has the virus after the number of patients in hospital and deaths soared.
- Pressure on health services to administer as many vaccines as possible.
In Hampstead, the top boss of the Royal Free London Hospital has warned in an internal memo that “significant staff shortages” are set to continue for the “foreseeable future”, while both clinical and administrative NHS workers have been told to defer leave.
All non-emergency operations have been cancelled at the Royal Free and UCLH, leading to concerns that a huge backlog of patient appointments will cause significant delays long after the lockdown is lifted. As happened last spring, medical students have once again been brought onto the wards.
NHS statistics show that hospitals are operating way above “capacity” and there are reports of patients being transferred to intensive care units outside of London because of bed shortages.
The number of Royal Free London beds with Covid patients has almost trebled in the past fortnight to more than 400. There were this week 58 patients in intensive care, with space normally reserved for 34 patients.
UCLH is said to be preparing to operate as a “Covid-only” hospital from next week, with floors being dismantled and wards rearranged to cope with the surge in demand for intensive care beds.
UCLH is said to be going ‘Covid only’
The Euston Road hospital has been asked to take in 92 emergency patients, despite only having 35 such beds.
In a leaked email about the crisis, University College London Hospitals medical director, Professor Geoff Bellingan, revealed how north London hospitals “cannot take another transfer”.
Meanwhile, the newly built Nightingale Hospital in east London has been empty because staff are needed for existing hospitals elsewhere.
Intensive care nurse Dave Carr, who worked at UCLH for many years, said: “The problem is staffing. If you want staff at the Nightingale you’d have to strip staff out of London’s hospitals. That’s just robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
The squeeze has been exacerbated by hundreds of NHS workers needing to take time off either sick with Covid or to self-isolate.
Earlier in the week, the Royal Free London’s group chief executive, Caroline Clarke, made an “urgent appeal” for staff to scrap plans for annual leave until mid-February and to come in for overtime shifts to plug the gap.
Her email to staff, seen by the New Journal, said: “Our hospitals are under huge pressure – Covid-19 hospitalisations are increasing sharply with more patients requiring critical care beds. We have significant staff shortages on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. But this pressure will continue for the foreseeable future and your ongoing support is going to be crucial in us getting through.”
Nurses have been dispatched from Great Ormond Street Hospital to the Royal Free to help with the overload, while staff are being given emergency training and redeployed to “areas they do not usually work”.
Another leaked email revealed how the “surge” at the Royal Free had led to calls for administrative staff to work on the wards “taking telephone calls, messages, providing updates to family members, acting as a runner, supporting discharges”.
The Royal Free London has reported 36 deaths due to Covid-19 in the past seven days, including 11 in one day, with four on Christmas Day.
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There have been none reported at UCLH where 30 of 133 Covid patients are in severe ill-health on mechanical ventilators.
Three have died at the Whittington where there are 121 Covid patients, according to this week’s figures.
The UCLH and the Royal Free paediatric A&E departments have been closed, meaning all child emergency patients being redirected to the Whittington.
NHS staff have been ordered not to speak to the media during the current Covid-19 wave but this has not stopped sources contacting the New Journal this week saying they are “severely traumatised” and “exhausted”.
“The scale of what is happening is off the chart, and it feels like there is no end in sight,” said one nurse at UCLH.
The death of the midwife, who was originally from Zimbabwe, will once again raise the alarm over the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on black and ethnic minority (BAME) people. Social factors have been blamed for the high death rate among BAME people.
But Camden clinicians have this week also been put on notice that specialist equipment may “underestimate blood oxygen levels in individuals with darker skin”.
The North Central London NHS trust, which manages the NHS in Camden, urged doctors this week to remain “vigilant” about “signs of deterioration” in BAME patients, despite meter readings from the “pulse oximeters”.
A Whittington statement said: “Like the whole NHS, Whittington Health is currently experiencing pressure as a result of a rapid increase in Covid patients. “However, the safety of our staff and patients remains our top priority and our colleagues are working tirelessly to ensure that we can continue to provide safe, effective and compassionate care to those who require it.”
In a statement, UCLH chief executive Marcel Levi said: “The situation is worse than it was during the first peak and the end is not in sight. We have had to convert about half the hospital into Covid wards and intensive care wards, but our staff are being brilliant, working tremendously hard, cancelling their leave and generally pulling together and helping each other.
“We are still capable of providing all emergency care, urgent cancer treatment and surgery, maternity, neurology, neurosurgery and urgent specialist paediatric care as we run most of these services from other sites.”
And Caroline Clarke, group chief executive for the Royal Free London, said: “Our staff are working extremely hard and I would like to say a huge thank-you to them and their families for the way they have responded during the festive period and into the New Year.
“Many of them have worked additional shifts, have postponed their leave and have offered to work in different roles so that we can continue to provide care to those patients who need it.”
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