What's it like for NHS critical care workers? Photo captures grim reality

The nurses had been caring for some of the sickest patients in Nottinghamshire. Credit: Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

A photograph of two nurses in Nottinghamshire has shown the pain and grief NHS staff are facing every day.

Exhausted nurses, Jill Kirk and Karen Colbeck-Rowe, comforted each other following an intense 12 hour shift working on the King's Mill Hospital Critical Care Unit.

Jill says that during this particular shift she needed a hug from someone who understood.

She says: "I needed a few minutes to recuperate and gather my strength to carry on caring for my patients, and supporting families in such a difficult time.”

The pair, who have over 40 years experience between them, had just finished a night shift where they'd been caring for some of the sickest coronavirus patients in the county.

Jill, who is an experienced Critical Care staff nurse, says the candid photo captured exactly how she and her colleagues are feeling during the pandemic.

She says even after working flat out for almost a year, no matter how exhausted they are, it doesn't mean they'll stop caring for those who need it most.

Before coronavirus there were 9 critical care beds at the hospital. It now has almost three times its capacity.

Most patients who need critical care are on ventilators and can't move from their beds because they're sedated or don't have enough oxygen or energy in their bodies to move.

Karen, Team Coordinator, says the photo reflects the "united bond" between nurses that, she says, will resonate with many.

She says teamwork at the hospital has been emphasised massively over the past 11 months, with patients being at their sickest and staff being at their most exhausted.

She says the level of care that has been required is one that they've never experienced before.

She adds: “To see the exhaustion, fear and tears in the eyes of my 'work family' as we work tirelessly to give the best care and treatment to the sickest patients, whilst supporting each other, is beyond empowering."

The compassion, love and understanding we have for each other keeps us strong through each shift and enables us to keep fighting through the most challenging time of our careers."

The image was taken by Nurse Holly Beacroft, after seeing the emotional hug between Jill and Karen, she says she knew it demonstrated how so many of her colleagues were feeling.

The photo is not unique. There are nurses, doctors, health care assistants, cleaners, porters, key workers, teachers and many more around the globe who feel like this every day.

Holly says she wants the image to resonate with members of the public and make them understand the immense pressures that are being faced by those working in health care.

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