'We're freaking out': Frontline NHS staff dreading second wave of COVID hospitalisations

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·6-min read
Second wave concerns: Laura Duffell, Matt Smith, Andrew Molodynski.
Second wave concerns: Laura Duffell, Matt Smith, Andrew Molodynski.
  • Frontline NHS workers tell this website of dread they are feeling at prospect of second wave of coronavirus hospitalisations

  • Top medical union raises concerns for workers’ mental health following short turnaround since first COVID-19 spike

  • Daily infections are doubling every week, with government having warned this will translate to increased hospital admissions

  • Visit the Yahoo homepage for more stories

As the coronavirus continues to surge in its second wave, frontline NHS staff who had to deal with COVID-19 the first time round are feeling increasing dread.

In early April, at the peak of the first wave, between 3,000 and 3,500 COVID-19 patients were being admitted daily to UK hospitals. There were thousands more deaths.

So, how do the same frontline healthcare workers pick themselves up for the expected second spike of COVID hospitalisations this winter?

With great – and understandable – difficulty.

Watch: Timeline of key events since UK was put into lockdown in March

Referring to the recent wave of new infections, one nurse told Yahoo News UK: “We’re all freaking out a little bit.”

Meanwhile, the British Medical Association (BMA), the chief medical trade union, also told this website of its concerns for workers’ mental health.

“It’s worse the second time,” its mental health spokesman said.

On Monday, Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, warned an increase in infections will translate to increased hospitalisations. There were 6,634 recorded on Thursday, double the amount of cases seven days before.

Last week, Dr David Rosser, CEO of the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Trust, told ITV “the levels of anxiety among our staff that we may go back to what we saw in April is beyond anything I have ever experienced in over 30 years in the health service”.

He added colleagues have been approaching him saying: “I’m not sure I can do this again.”

Speaking to this website, Laura Duffell, a matron at the trauma centre of a London hospital that was three times over its intensive care capacity at the peak of the first outbreak, said there is a similar sense of dread among her colleagues.

“We in nursing are all freaking out a little bit. This is up and down the UK.

“We’ve been talking about the rise in infections and it’s worrying everyone hugely, especially with how quickly they are going up. We are very short of nurses and I have had colleagues who said if it does happen again, ‘I won’t be in the job because I just can’t cope’.

Laura Duffell: 'The idea of it happening again fills everyone with a little bit of dread.'
Laura Duffell: 'The idea of it happening again fills everyone with a little bit of dread.'

“We do have staff currently off with stress and anxiety-related disorders in the aftermath of what happened. The idea of it happening again fills everyone with a little bit of dread.”

Duffell has been a co-organiser of nationwide protests calling for NHS pay rises, due in April next year, to be brought forward.

One of her fellow campaigners, Matt Smith, has previously told this website he has to work two extra shifts a month to get more money.

Matt Smith: 'The thought of having to wear PPE for 13 to 14 hours a day again isn’t pleasant.'
Matt Smith: 'The thought of having to wear PPE for 13 to 14 hours a day again isn’t pleasant.'

Smith, an advanced nurse practitioner at a London hospital who was stationed in an intensive care unit during the first wave, said of the prospect of doing it all again: “At least this time round you know what to expect a bit more.

“But having to deal with the issues we had last time – really sick people who couldn’t have relatives with them when they need them most, the thought of having to wear PPE [personal protective equipment] for 13 to 14 hours a day again…

“The thought of having to go through all that again isn’t pleasant.”

Earlier this month, the BMA issued a 10-point plan on how to protect the mental health of NHS workers amid the pandemic.

It came after research in May found 45% of doctors were suffering from depression, anxiety, stress, burnout or other mental health conditions relating to, or made worse by, the COVID-19 crisis.

Dr Andrew Molodynski, the BMA’s mental health lead, said: “Our concerns are the same as the first wave. People are going to be exposed to much more difficult working conditions, witnessing patients coming in in large numbers with the infection again, and will have the big worry of catching COVID and taking it home to people who may be more vulnerable. That was stressful for a lot of us.”

And he warned the impact of this could be “worse the second time”.

Dr Andrew Molodynski: 'This time, we know what the difficulties are going to be. It actually makes the anticipation of it much worse.'
Dr Andrew Molodynski: 'This time, we know what the difficulties are going to be. It actually makes the anticipation of it much worse.'

Dr Molodynski explained: “The first time, it was a crisis and the vast majority of people chipped in and got on with it. We didn’t really know what was happening, we just dealt with what came before us.

“This time, we know what the difficulties are going to be. Hopefully that will be helpful in terms of dealing with the virus, but it actually makes the anticipation of it much worse.”

He went on: “The worry is there will already be quite a lot of people who will be recovering from the first wave managing to get a bit of a breather, a bit of headspace, but that’s looking as though it’s not going to be for long before they are straight back into it.”

Among the measures called for by the BMA include providing a “supportive culture” for staff who may be reluctant to seek help, and supporting staff who need to take time off or want to work flexibly.

It comes after the government introduced a raft of new rules for England – including encouraging office staff to work from home, pubs closing at 10pm and wedding attendance being cut from 30 to 15 – aimed at restricting the spread of the virus.

However, Boris Johnson has also hinted at a second lockdown, saying the government “reserves the right to go further” if infections don’t fall.

Watch: How to remove a face covering correctly

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