“It’s not safe, I don’t feel safe” - support worker reveals Sheffield hospital coronavirus fears

I’m exhausted, we all are, says Linda*, who works as a clinical support worker at Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital.

“PPE recommendations change daily depending on supply, and infection practices are not up to code.

“To be honest, I’m more concerned about catching the virus from another member of staff than I am from the actual patients.

“It is not safe, I don’t feel safe.”

Sheffield's Northern General

Linda (*not her real name) revealed she’s never seen anything like the current situation on the wards where she works.

“There aren’t enough beds so all the wards are getting mixed up, and we have Covid-19 patients everywhere,” says the 49-year-old.

“It’s very confusing.

“The ward I’m on is very crowded.

The Northern General Hospital in Sheffield is taking part in the new study

“The staff are generally wearing masks, but patients aren’t, even the ones that have tested positive.

“I’ve seen positive Covid-19 patients being taken from one floor to another, being wheeled down corridors, and using the general lifts, no mask on, and coughing and spluttering all the way.

“The practice is slipping, it’s no wonder it’s spreading.

“I’ve also seen staff walking out of Covid 19 rooms with their PPE still on.

“I honestly think everybody who works at the hospital could use a crash course in infection control practice, as most staff have absolutely no idea what should be required.

“I saw a doctor come out of a Covid 19 patient’s room a couple of days ago, wash his hands and then dry them on his scrubs.

“It’s honestly scary.”

Linda* also revealed the entire permanent staff on Covid ward Firth 4 are currently off sick with the virus.

“The entire staff,” she emphasises.

“The hospital is getting bank workers in, and redeploying staff where they can, but it’s utter chaos, and everyone is stressed and absolutely exhausted.”

“I work two 12 hour shifts and one six hour shift per week, and split them so I work one day one and one day off, because it’s mentally and physically draining.

“Staff are not allowed to take any annual leave until this is all over.

“I’ve heard staff say ‘I’ve had my free week off, I just called in and said I had a cough.’

“It’s my job to take care of people and that’s what I will do, to the very best of my ability.

“I don’t resent it, I want to be there doing my job, but I want us all to be protected.

“As it is, at the moment, I do my job, I come home, and go to bed each night praying that I don’t wake up with a cough or a temperature the next day.”

Linda* says inconsistencies with PPE are a big part of the worry.

“The rules regarding PPE change day-to-day depending on what is available,” says the mum-of-two.

“At first it was double gown and change between patients, and then it was a single gown, a pair of gloves and a flimsy surgical mask.

“It got to the point where the gowns we were wearing, which are for a single use and then should be disposed of, were being sent to the laundry to be washed and reused.

“There was one terrifying point last week when there were persistent rumours from several departments we were going to be told we don’t need to wear masks to attend Covid 19 patients, as they were running low.

“Now supplies are back up again, so we’re back to double-gowning, but everyone’s nerves are shot.”

Linda* also claims enough care is not being taken to protect other patients in the hospital from those suspected of having the virus.

She says: “Patients suspected of having Covid-19 are transferred to the ward from assessment units, with no swab results back, placed in a bay surrounded by other patients, and hours later we find out that patient is positive.

“They’re not even given a mask to wear.

“Therefore the whole bay of patients is at risk of being ill, and do not need it on top of whatever condition has already brought them there.

“The sad truth is, if you’re placed in a waiting area with a person who it turns out tests positive for Covid-19, you could then find yourself having to stay in isolation for 14 days.

“That means you could come into the hospital with an ingrown toenail, and end up battling Covid-19.”

And Linda* says morale among staff is waning, as they get worn down by the daily battle.

“Everyone is exhausted and scared,” she says.

“Wearing the PPE is hard too.

“I leave a shift with soaking wet hair, and spend much of my shift wiping away sweat that is dripping down my face, which isn’t ideal when we’re being told to avoid touching our faces.

“I’ve lived with anxiety my whole life, and obviously this whole situation has flared it up, but even those who haven’t had issues with anxiety before are talking about what a difficult time they’re having.

“There’s quite a high number of people feeling down, and morale is not so good right now.

“All we can do is take it one step, and one day, at a time.

“You might not be able to see behind the masks, but believe me, we’re not smiling.”

Dr David Hughes, Medical Director, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “We take the safety of staff and patients extremely seriously and the correct use of PPE is an important part of making sure this happens.

“We are only changing PPE guidance when Public Health England makes changes to national guidance, it is nothing to do with availability of PPE in our Trust. We have been working 24/7 to ensure we have stocks of PPE and we currently have enough to meet our needs.. We have been very open about the fact that we have been exploring potential alternatives in case there are national shortages of some PPE items but we would not implement these without being sure it was safe for our staff.

“We have very clear procedures in place for testing patients who are or become symptomatic and ensuring the appropriate actions are taken to minimise spread of the virus to other patients or staff.

“Our staff are incredibly vigilant and would not knowingly put patients at risk. There are some occasions where patients need to transported to have a scan or other procedure and in these instances if they are suspected or confirmed positive for COVID-19 the patient would wear a surgical mask and the separate patient only lift used not the public lift.

“All our staff are wearing gloves, mask and apron as standard during patient contact. Any member of staff who sees something not being done correctly should raise it with their manager and it will be addressed as a priority. We also have dedicated PPE clinical champions in areas to reinforce the importance of wearing the correct protection”