Nurse treats Covid-19 patients with a ‘knot in her stomach’ over infection fears

By Rebecca Black, PA
·4-min read

A nurse has said she is treating coronavirus patients with a “knot in her stomach” amid fears of infection.

She has urged the Department of Health to intervene to ensure workers are better protected from Covid-19.

The A&E nurse, who spoke anonymously to the BBC Northern Ireland’s Nolan Show, said the World Health Organisation’s recommended medical masks, gown, gloves and eye protection feels insufficient.

A nurse during a demonstration of the coronavirus pod and Covid-19 virus testing procedures set up at Antrim Area Hospital (Michael Cooper/PA)

“These masks are like paper masks with an attached face shield on them, they are not seal-proof masks; we were fit tested several months ago to wear respirator masks, FFP3 masks, which we’re now not getting to wear at all,” she said.

“They are sealed masks which are fit tested to ensure there is a correct sealed fit on our face, they cover the nose and the mouth and they ensure that no droplet is going to get in through the mask that we could inhale in.

“This is what we were told we would be wearing – hair nets, the masks, gowns with aprons and gloves – but now it seems it has been stripped to the bare minimum of wearing surgical masks with fluid shields.

“People can buy them off eBay, there was people in Tesco yesterday wearing FFP3 masks, it’s almost as if there are members of the public who are more protected than nurses and doctors that are working on the front line.”

The nurse said she feels fearful as she goes about her work treating coronavirus patients.

“We feel exposed,” she said.

“I had been with a lady all day, working with bodily fluids, working in very close contact, and I had just got this fluid shield mask with an apron and gloves, and I honestly felt I had a knot in my stomach for most of the day in fear that, if she did come back positive, that was the only PPE I had on.

“This is guidance that we are given from the World Health Organisation.

“This is not just from one single A&E department, one hospital; this is concerns that have come from at least three different hospitals here in Northern Ireland. We’re worried.

“This is why I am speaking out, we don’t know who to speak to, we don’t know what is going to change, but I don’t think there is anyone that feels happy about this at all.

“I have yet to speak to a healthcare worker on the front line that says ‘Yeah, our PPE is really good, I feel really well protected’ – because we don’t.”

Earlier, Health Minister Robin Swann said “concrete action” is being taken over Northern Ireland’s supply of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Coronavirus testing in the region is also expected to be significantly stepped up to 1,100 a day from next week.

Guidance on the use of PPE for healthcare workers is expected to be updated within the next two days.

“This is a very fluid situation and there is inevitably very high demand for PPE. It needs to be emphasised that we have substantial PPE in stock and it is being issued to the system, with more orders placed,” Mr Swann said.

“Steps have also been taken to streamline and improve its distribution, and to ensure the independent care home and domiciliary care providers are supported.

“Ensuring the safety of all staff who are dealing with Covid-19 patients is an absolute priority. It is, of course, also essential that these products are used in line with advice.

“Demand for PPE will inevitably intensify in the days and weeks ahead.

“We are therefore taking every conceivable step to keep building up our stocks to meet this demand. It is very welcome news that key global supply chains are starting to reopen.

“We will pursue every feasible supply route, both local and international, to enhance our supplies.”

Meanwhile, efforts continue to prepare Northern Ireland for the worst.

Work is under way to establish large temporary field hospitals for coronavirus patients after modelling indicated that the current health service network may not have the capacity to cope at the peak of the outbreak.