You hear from ICU and ED nurses on the news and in articles, but not Covid WARD Nurses. The following piece was emailed to us yesterday by a COVID ward nurse who tells it how it is. A must read. She has asked to remain anonymous.

Recently in the media, I have seen lots of discussion about whether our public health system can cope with COVID if lockdowns are lifted and we learn to ‘live with the virus’ – as a nurse that has worked on a COVID ward at a major regional public hospital for the last 2 years – I would say no.

A lot of experts reference the capacity of ICU’s when discussing the resilience of our healthcare system but they seem to forget that for every person that goes to ICU most, if not all, will require a step-down bed on a ward for weeks or months as they recover. As a ward nurse, I can honestly say that we are not coping at the moment. This does not relate to resources or bed numbers but burnout. 

Last year when my ward was filled with COVID positive patients the nurses felt the brunt of it. Our allied health colleagues were no longer allowed on the ward to prevent them from carrying the virus from our ward to others. So nurses added physiotherapist, occupational therapist, speech pathologist, dietician and social worker to our job descriptions.

Last week, as our risk classification changed, allied health workers were again banned from our ward. Visitors weren’t allowed in the hospital adding counsellor and companion to our job description as we tried to uphold the morale of our lonely and distressed patients. Last year in a medical emergency doctors would avoid coming into a suspected or confirmed positive COVID room to decrease the chance of infection spread.

This left a or multiple nurses running around inside a room trying to complete the necessary tasks being requested by the doctor looking in from outside while also trying to keep the patient calm – put oxygen nasal prongs on, set up high flow nasal prongs, do an ECG, take bloods, check all their vital signs on a 5 minutely basis…the list goes on. Cleaner and food delivery were also added to our tasks as cleaners or PSA’s were not allowed to enter suspected or confirmed COVID positive rooms. The nurses dearly missed our multidisciplinary colleagues as they usually are there to help us keep our heads above water and the hospital running. 

As I reflect on what became a COVID nurses norm last year, I feel the anxiety start to rise as I realise it is all starting to happen again. Over the past couple of weeks we have started to admit positive patients to our ward once again, from our local community as well as overflow from metropolitan Melbourne. 

Already nurses have started to call in sick, unable to face another 8-10 hours of uncomfortable PPE and an ever growing list of tasks. The nurses that find the strength to turn up on the day are often asked to do double shifts to cover staffing shortfalls. As the mental health of the community deteriorates we are faced with an ever-growing cohort of mentally ill patients who are unable to be admitted to a psychiatric ward due to bed constraints or infection risk are placed on our ward where we do not have the resources or training to care for them in a safe manner.

Add to this the verbal and physical abuse we suffer on a weekly, if not a daily, basis from our patients and their families and it is crystal clear to me that we are not coping despite being in lockdown where infections are prevented. 

Just like everyone else we have families and friends we would love to see and lives we want to get on with but as I see it, if we open up too soon and infections rise – it won’t be the just the public health system itself that will collapse but it will be the nurses that are most badly injured in the rubble. The least the public can do is get vaccinated TODAY and adhere to the current restrictions.