'Hell, after 20 years... I've never had to get used to this many dying' - Mental struggle affecting intensive care staff

Medical staff in PPE Credit: PA

An intensive care doctor based in Birmingham talks about the struggles of working through the coronavirus crisis

The last six weeks have been tough.

When people start working in intensive care, they accept death as a constant companion.

Even at the best of times, around 20% of our patients die.

Unfortunately, during the Covid-19 crisis, this number has been around 50%.

When you consider that our intensive care unit (ICU) bed capacity has been doubled, suddenly this is an increase of five times the normal number of dead patients.

You tell yourself that you have the training to deal with this sort of thing, but half of the staff members working with me are not ICU professionals.

They’re anaesthesia and medicine doctors, or theatre staff.

They aren’t used to this.

Hell, after 20 years, I’m not used to this.

I am an intensivist, but I have never had to get used to this many patients sick and dying - and not being able to have families visit.

Under normal circumstances we would have open visiting in the ICU, usually there are always families around.

Our nursing and medical staff talk to families all the time.

Suddenly, I am having to tell a new mother or an ailing octogenarian that their relatives are dying and they may or may not be able to visit.

My nursing colleagues or I will sit with their relative so they’re not alone as they pass away.

No one has the training to deal with this.

Not when you feel like you’re not just looking after patients… you’re also aware that you’re putting yourself into danger.

Worse, you’re conscious of putting your family at risk.

I have never felt that before.

All of my colleagues have an elaborate disinfection routine.

We shower at work before going home, when we get home we don't touch anything at home, put our clothes straight in to be washed and then shower again.

It’s harder on colleagues with young children.

But we will continue.

We will keep people safe.

But we will remember this.

At last count, 80% of my colleagues admitted to having trouble sleeping over the last month.

If this is everyone nationally, we are looking at massive psychological problems.

The ICS campaign wants to raise money to provide support to staff and help to look after the carers.

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