I have spent 7 years in the NHS and during that time, everything has worked relatively like clock work. Besides the constant lack of funds, staff and stock, the NHS has remained a float and sleepy ol’ Norfolk hasn’t had any major incidents to worry about.
Norfolk is a funny place. On the upper portion of the ‘east of England’, we are nestled in the hump of the island, a little too far and out of the way for London and a bit too pointless for any Cantabrigian’s to visit. There is one large hospital (My place of work) and several smaller ones around an hour and a half away in all directions. We are pretty isolated. So it was no surprise that we didn’t feel immediately threatened by this new strand of coronavirus that is infecting our globe. However, the inevitable has happened and as I type this, there are a total of 4 positive cases in Norfolk and just under 30 in the east of England.
My NHS trust has set measures in place to help protect staff and patients and as I reside in the operating department, the only direct contact we would/should be exposed to is if the infected person required life saving surgery.
We have had sessions all week to refresh ourselves on the correct protection to wear, a buddy system designed to pair you with someone on a 1:1 basis and help prevent you from getting contaminated as well as ‘Fit mask’ testing. I am a ‘Fit Mask’ tester. I have a role within my department to make sure a certain kind of face mask fits properly. These are the sort of mask you’d wear if you had a patient with TB or other highly contagious airborne illness. The standard masks that you see surgeons wear (and half the population at the moment) do not stop airborne particles from getting into your mouth. They never have and we don’t wear them during surgery for that reason, we wear them as a barrier to prevent any blood or other fluid entering our mouths. Some surgeons don’t wear them during an operation depending on what procedure is being done.
The masks used for fit testing are horrible, duckbill looking things. They are strapped to your face and if you feel like you are suffocating then it fits correctly. It isn’t a ‘one size’ fits all kind of deal neither. Everyone has a different shaped face. A Lot of our Filipino staff struggle to get a complete seal as they have slightly flatter noses. Beards can also cause problems and at the work at the moment, we have a volunteer service who will shave your facial hair off for your, should you wish. In the event your mask doesn’t fit, I will try a different brand. If that fails, then you fail and it will be documented that you shouldn’t assist in any cases requiring a duck billed mask.
Working in healthcare during a pandemic is quite scary and there is an enormous amount of pressure on us. Not only do we want to remain corona-free as we all have families to go home to, we also deal with already weak and vulnerable patients. We have to be extra vigilant that we haven’t accidentally touched our faces and then give this illness to anyone else who is already in a weaken state and healing. There is also the fact that unlike schools, hospitals can’t shut their doors. We need to be careful because if we catch coronavirus and need two weeks of isolation, our department loses a staff member for two weeks. If schools shut in England, we’ll lose staff simply because there is no one else to look after their children.
Plans are in place for the sudden haemorrhaging of staff but it’s hard to know how it will really affect us until it happens. While only 4 cases are known about, its how many more that are brewing, simmering under the surface. Every innocent sneeze or cough suddenly turns heads with concerned expressions. It is a tense time.
Be safe and don’t forget to wash your hands! (Please also teach your children about the importance of hand hygiene.)
I have attached a link to the BBC’s guide on how to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. There is not need to panic, just be educated and aware of what is going on.