As the colourful rainbows in people's windows are beginning to fade, is the public support for our frontline workers also fading? Has gratitude and thank you's been replaced with frustration and anger from the public? In her latest blog, critical care outreach nurse Claire reflects on the impact this is having on the wellbeing of already exhausted frontline staff.
When driving to work at the beginning of the pandemic, I felt a sense of worry and apprehension of what I would be faced with. As a critical care outreach nurse I never know what I may be faced with, but this has never bothered me. However, during the pandemic it did bother me. I worried how I could do my job; would I get sick and how would I navigate my way through the new ways of working?
Seeing the brightly coloured rainbows in people’s windows gave me some hope. I knew that the public were thinking of us; they knew the risks we were putting ourselves at and our families.
For a time, I felt special. It sounds pathetic, I know. For a time, I felt valued. Valued by the public, valued by the trust I work for and valued by politicians. As NHS staff we had priority shopping, we had discounts from big stores, we had free parking, we had donations of food every day while we were at work, we were donated hand creams and toiletries. School children drew us pictures to put on the walls of our staff room saying ”thank you”.
What made me feel valued more than anything was staff wellbeing being at the forefront. Extra staff were redeployed to work on the ITU, we were made sure we had all our breaks and we were made to feel that each and every one of us counted.
Relatives of patients wrote and expressed their gratitude, even if they were unable to visit their dying family – they were truly grateful to us. The ITU where I work received so many beautifully written letters and cards. We pinned every one onto the wall so we were reminded that we were shining bright despite the darkness. Then there was the Thursday clap. Personally, I thought this was an odd thing to do, but it seemed to bring people together and have a shared purpose – even if it was for a fleeting 5 minutes a week.
When I think back at those months, it seems like a lifetime ago.
Eve Mitchell’s recent blog on the hub highlighted that care homes are receiving complaint letters and some are even receiving threats of litigation. “Not enough PPE”, “lack of care given to my family member”, “my family member was neglected during the pandemic” – frustration and anger are palpable. Frustration and anger because families were unable to visit their relatives in their last days, frustration and anger that these precious moments have been denied from them. If it were my mum or dad would I feel the same? Of course I would. I would be the loudest voice there.
Is it the fault of the care home? Should they be vilified for the protection of their residents?
And now it’s the turn of the hospitals. We now have over a million people waiting on lists for operations, procedures, appointments. Some have already waited months before the pandemic started.
Some have already died as a result of not having surgery at the right time. Patients have received surgery and treatment late and this has led to complications and a longer hospital stay – which then increases their mortality.
At some point the gratitude from the public will turn to anger and frustration, as it has with the care homes.
Would I be angry if my mum was waiting for an operation and died as a result of a prolonged wait? Yes I would. It is a natural response to blame the very people who should have helped – the NHS staff.
I now drive to work and see faded rainbows in windows, I will be paying for parking again in the next few weeks, the donations of food have dried up, staff are back at ‘normal’ levels and I am back to having no breaks some days, not to mention that nurses were not included in the recent pay rise. I feel that we have served our purpose. ‘Thanks very much – now get back to normal, sort the waiting lists out and work harder to make sure it happens’.
I don’t envy our senior leaders in acute Trusts. They are stuck in the middle of the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England who are trying to fathom out a strategy to get the waiting lists down, and support frontline staff who are exhausted and a frustrated public that may erupt at any moment.
Frontline workers have been through it the last few months. Navigating our way through complaints and litigation and an angry public who feel that they are not receiving the care that they expect in the coming months fills me with dread. We are not equipped.
Faded rainbows – is this a representation of the fading support we are receiving in the NHS?
About the Author
Claire is an experienced nurse of over 20 years. She has worked in numerous specialities in the NHS and in different places around the world, from being a repatriation nurse to volunteering in refugee camps and striking up collaborations with nurses in the USA. Since 2011, Claire has worked as a Critical Care Outreach Sister where her desire for patient safety was ignited.