Comment

Nurses need support – and a pay rise – before we face the second wave

Enthusiasm for front-line staff needs to extend beyond the first peak of the COVID-19 pandemic

Enthusiasm for front-line staff needs to extend beyond the first peak of the COVID-19 pandemic

Picture: iStock

I have worked in paediatric critical care for five years. I had never cared for an adult patient before I was redeployed to adult intensive care (ICU) during the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the pandemic was at its peak, all the nurses on my unit took turns going to the adult ICU to help care for patients with COVID-19.

This was way out of my comfort zone, and the personal protective equipment (PPE) we had to wear and still do was suffocating and draining. I felt unskilled and out of my depth, even though I was more than capable of doing the job.

COVID-19 is

Enthusiasm for front-line staff needs to extend beyond the first peak of the COVID-19 pandemic

Picture: iStock

I have worked in paediatric critical care for five years. I had never cared for an adult patient before I was redeployed to adult intensive care (ICU) during the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the pandemic was at its peak, all the nurses on my unit took turns going to the adult ICU to help care for patients with COVID-19.

This was way out of my comfort zone, and the personal protective equipment (PPE) we had to wear – and still do – was suffocating and draining. I felt unskilled and out of my depth, even though I was more than capable of doing the job.

COVID-19 is not the only challenge nurses face

Caring for patients with COVID-19 is difficult, but so is my usual role. Caring for the critically ill baby who probably won’t survive, or the teenager with cancer who suddenly deteriorates, as well as supporting the families who love these children dearly is difficult, but it’s a vital part of my job.

It is important for people to realise that COVID-19 is not the only challenge we face. We deal with traumatic events every day of our working lives – and we will continue to do so.

Appreciation of front-line staff should extend beyond the first wave

We are not heroes in this crazy situation, we are just trying to do our best in jobs we love, whatever our roles.

I am concerned that people will become impatient with us if there is a second outbreak of COVID-19, and that the overwhelming support shown for NHS staff could start to wear off.

The first wave may be over, but services are just as strained as ever as we try to catch up with all the routine care that was suspended at the height of the pandemic – all the treatments and procedures that people need just to survive.

The majority of the public have made an incredible effort during the pandemic, and it has been heart-warming to see and hear people being so grateful for what we do. All this generosity and gratitude is wonderful now, but what about all the times over the past few years when the NHS has been on its knees?

We will need just as much support over the next few months, and I hope the gratitude and positivity will continue in what are still uncertain times for us all. Let’s not forget that winter is just around the corner, and it is always a difficult time for the NHS. Add in another wave of COVID-19 and it will be even more stressful for front-line staff.

Being excluded from public sector pay rise was insulting

In July, chancellor Rishi Sunak announced an above inflation pay rise for public sector workers, including teachers and police officers but he left out NHS nurses. This was unjust after all our hard work and I felt angry and betrayed. But there was also an underlying sadness as I wasn’t surprised that the government would treat us like this.

After all the clapping and plaudits from government ministers, a pay rise that recognised public efforts on the front line during the pandemic’ that did not include nurses, felt deeply insulting.

And it’s not just nurses, it’s all NHS staff on Agenda for Change contracts — the junior doctors, physiotherapists, healthcare support workers, carers and porters who went to work and faced the virus every day.

I completely agree that other public sector workers deserve a pay rise, but what my colleagues and I have been through during this period goes far beyond ‘an effort to cope with the pandemic. To not include those who were at the very front of the front line seems absurd and it makes me feel undervalued and demoralised.

Morale is low as we face a second wave of cases

I’m sure a lot of nurses feel the same, which is not ideal when me might be expected to do it all again if there is a second wave. The government needs to take action and give us something back, to show how grateful they are and to show us we are valued. The public also need to show their support by backing a pay rise.

I hope that in these changing and uncertain times, we will get the recognition we deserve — not just for the work we have done during the pandemic but for all the other life-saving work we carry out every day.

Let’s hope that the public will continue to be patient and kind, and that the government will support us, more than they have done over the past few, bitterly disappointing, years.


Picture of Rebecca Harmer, paediatric critical care nurse at John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford

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