QEH: NHS staff reveal reality of working in crumbling hospital where the roof is held up by props

  • Rob Setchell reports on how working in a crumbling hospital affects staff

Nurses Patricia Pereira and Joel Santos have got used to working in a crumbling hospital.

When it rains in King's Lynn, Patricia's first thought is to call Necton Ward and remind her colleagues to put the buckets out and shut the windows to guard against leaks.

Her husband Joel is well-versed in the art of reassurance. He tells patients not to worry about the roof checks, or the posters in the lift urging people to report cracks in the walls.

This has been the reality of life at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital - a building supported by nearly 3,400 props, filled with patients supported by exhausted staff.

"I've cried with some patients, I've cried with some families," says Patricia, who manages the respiratory ward.

"That's what makes you a human isn't it? When you don't have that anymore, that's when you're ready to leave."

Posters at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital warn patients to report cracked walls and leaks. Credit: ITV News Anglia

And yet, ever since they swapped Portugal for Norfolk, neither Patricia or Joel have ever considered leaving - despite the gruelling shifts and the failing concrete planks that have led to theatres closing.

Joel is a charge nurse on the neonatal intensive care unit, looking after the hospital's youngest patients.

"NHS workers are really hard workers," he says. "They go above and beyond for the patients so they deserve to work in the right conditions.

"We deserve to have a right roof. A right hospital.

"We deserve to feel that we are safe and that we can provide our patients with the best care that we can."

On the day ITV News Anglia filmed with Joel and Patricia, 23 November, every bed at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital was occupied.

Staff on Necton Ward - the respiratory ward - can't remember the last time it wasn't full.

Alex Swan, an 82-year-old with Covid-related pneumonia, is among those being treated.

Queen Elizabeth Hospital patient Alex Swan. Credit: ITV News Anglia

"You always hear bad news don't you? You never hear the good news," he tells us, gasping for breath. "Initially, I was in a very bad way and the amount of treatment I got was unbelievable."

The problem is that there is plenty of bad news.

While frontline staff remain passionate, dedicated and determined, our health system faces soaring demand, huge waiting lists, record vacancies.

The ambulance service is plagued by handover delays outside hospitals.

The social care system is in crisis, leaving patients who are fit to leave hospital stuck in beds others desperately need.

"The patient comes in unwell," says Patricia. "We treat them, we make them better and we want them home as soon as possible to their own environment, to their own family.

"To have them waiting for that care in the community is obviously going to put them at risk of more infections."

Joel says: "Every year is worse than the year before. Sometimes the population don't understand that. But we do our best. I don't know anyone in the NHS who doesn't want to be here."

Patricia and Joel's greatest frustration is the feeling that, whatever hours they work, however many family Christmas celebrations they give up, systemic problems may still prevent them from providing the best care possible.

But it won't stop them trying.

"You go home thinking you might have changed someone's life," says Patricia. "I might have made someone better.

"We can't cure everyone but I might have made their last days or hours a bit better because I was there - and that's rewarding. It makes you come back and do it again."

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