Over the weekend we received the tragic news that the number of NHS workers who have been killed by the Coronavirus (Covid-19) has risen and it is expected that the number will continue to rise.
The virus has been indiscriminate in who it claims, taking lives of GPs, surgeons, nurses and midwives. The Telegraph shared a tribute to all the NHS staff who have so far died from Coronavirus.
- John Alagos, was only 23, so was the youngest nurse to have died from coronavirus. His mother claimed he had fallen ill, but due to short-staffing he was not allowed to go home. Watford General Hospital where he worked responded saying “Our staff are fully briefed on the symptoms of Covid-19 and we would never expect anyone to remain at work if they were showing these symptoms or indeed were unwell in any way.”
- Glen Corbin, came out of retirement to help with the coronavirus pandemic, he worked at Park Royal Centre for Mental Health since 1995. Colleagues referred to him as the “backbone” and the “go to” person.
- Liz Glanister, a grandmother who worked as a nurse at Aintree University Hospital in Liverpool. Dianne Brown, Chief Nurse said; “Liz will be sadly missed by all those who knew and worked with her.”
- Areema Nasreen, a 36 year-old staff nurse and mother of three. She had worked at the hospital where she died for 16 years. She previously revealed; “I would like to think that I can inspire others, I cry every morning because I am so happy that I have finally realised my dream of becoming a nurse.” Her best friend wrote on Facebook; “She was the most loveliest, genuine person you could ever meet, she went above and beyond for everyone she met.”
- Lynsay Coventry, a 54 year-old midwife, her colleagues at the Princess Alexandra Hospital described her as a “proud” midwife and “very well respected.” Her family said; “Our hearts are broken at the loss of our loving wonderful caring mum, sister daughter and grandmother.”
- Aimee O’Rourke, a 39 year-old nurse from Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Hospital. Her Ward Manager said; “She was such a kind and caring nurse, and had a really special relationship with her patients and colleagues.” Her daughter, Megan described her as an “angel” and wrote on Facebook; “Look at all the lives you looked after and all the families you comforted when patients passed away…I could go on all day and have so many things to say but I have to be strong!! Night night mummy.”
- Dr Alfa Sa’adu, a 68 year-old medic and father of two. He retired after a 40 year medical career but carried on working part-time at the Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital. His son said; “My dad was a living legend. Up until he got sick, he was still working part-time saving people.”
- Thomas Harvey, a mental health nurse and father of seven, contracted the Covid-19 virus from a patient. His daughter said; “The Government could have prevented this. If they invested some money into protective equipment for nurses, because they are really on the frontline and putting their lives at risk every day.”
- Amged El-Hawrani, a 55 year-old ear, nose and throat specialist at Queen’s Hospital. His son said: “He did not seek the praise and approval of others, he was satisfied by viewing the positive effects of his actions and the wellbeing of his family. I am incredibly proud to say that, for 18 years of my life, Amged El-Hawrani was my father.”
- Dr Habib Zaidi, a 76 year-old GP from Leigh-on-Sea. His daughter said; “He left a gaping hole in our hearts, but a loss that is also felt within the community that he devoted almost his entire life to. We are praying for the safety of everyone right now.”
- Dr Adil El Tayar, a 63 year old surgeon, he is thought to have contracted the illness while working in the A&E department of Hereford County Hospital where he had volunteered to help with the pandemic response. He didn’t know that the patient he was treating had the coronavirus. His cousin warned that doctors were “sitting ducks” and said more testing could have saved Dr El Tayar’s life, adding “This disease is horrible and is going to cause more heartbreak for many more families for weeks to come.”
We may have expected those on the frontline of NHS care were at a higher risk of contracting the virus, but as some of the families are questioning, has the government done everything possible to mitigate that risk and limit the resulting tragedies?
Personal Protective Equipment
The lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has been highly publicised and we reported last week how, despite being numerous weeks into our battle against the virus, healthcare professionals still don’t feel like they have access to the correct level of PPE.
Howard Catton, Chief Executive of International Council of Nursing (CIN) recently told the Nursing Times “The really big important issues and messages from us is that I believe that it’s highly likely that the lack of PPE is a causal factor in the high infection rates. I can’t say it’s a causal factor in relation to the deaths, because I just don’t know but I am as sure as I can be that the high rate in in Italy for example of health worker infections in related to the lack of PPE.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Social Care has said; “We are working round the clock to make sure that our heroic frontline healthcare staff feel safe, and the full weight of the government is behind the effort to make sure PPE is reaching the frontline.”
There are two types of tests available for the COVID-19 virus, but the swab test which detects the presence of the virus in patients, still proves to be the most reliable. It is not completely failsafe and is dependent on the swab collecting enough of the virus from the back of the throat, it also takes days for laboratory results. A more instant blood test detects antibodies in a patient who has previously had the virus, but this has not proved to be so reliable. It appears to be successful in cases where the patient suffered significant symptoms, but there is less evidence of success if the patient had mild symptoms.
The level of testing across the UK remains quite low and has been reserved for those who are showing significant symptoms at hospital. This is due to lack of resources. There is a global demand on the reagents required to extract the virus’s genetic material so it can be studied more easily. There is also a shortage of laboratories to carry out the analysis of swabs. Public Health England have recently expanded testing to its own and NHS laboratories, but still only 48 labs in total. The government plans to recruit more labs at universities and research institutes to test NHS workers.
The UK government plan to ramp up testing to 100,000 tests a day by the end of April, they are currently at around 12,000 tests a day.
The government has only recently started prioritising testing for NHS workers and their family members. The delay to put this in force has put additional strain on the NHS as many healthcare professionals have been forced to isolate if they or any family members show any symptoms.
The NHS has long suffered from under-resourcing across many disciplines, so there was little doubt that it was going to struggle under these extreme circumstances. But can we continue to expect the NHS to cope with the influx in patients alongside the increased sickness rate of frontline key workers?
The testing of NHS staff and family members will help to reduce the number of workers unnecessarily isolating. However, if they are not sufficiently protected from the risks of contracting the virus, healthcare professionals will continue to need to isolate with symptoms, putting both themselves and their families at risk.
We all know and appreciate the exceptional work that healthcare workers put into their everyday lives, even without a pandemic of this nature. The pressure they have to get things right is immense, and they balance care and compassion for their patients alongside staff shortages, outdated technology and inefficient processes. Should the government expect them to continue to deal with that and the additional strain this pandemic is placing on them and their health?
Many have referred to the NHS healthcare professionals as the superheroes of this pandemic. Yes, they are our heroes, and yes they are extraordinary humans, but should we really expect them to be superhuman? All they really want is the best for their patients, and the health of themselves and their families.
This level of pressure could perhaps lead to a lapse in safety or precautions.
Slow to react
The UK’s coronavirus strategy was based around protecting the NHS, however, there were perhaps measures that the government should have made to ensure that the health and wellbeing of the NHS workers were fully factored into this strategy. The initial logistics of testing and PPE appear to have been limited to traditional sources. The government and NHS have until recently relied on their own laboratories and suppliers. There are, however, vast amounts of workers and industries that have effectively been put out of work with social distancing. Factories and laboratories sitting empty, their workers furloughed at a great cost to the government. If the crucial work of producing PPE and tests and subsequently analysing their results had been outsourced more promptly, perhaps more of our NHS frontline workers could be spared from this virus.