Coronavirus: BHRUT nurse with severe symptoms calls protection of frontliners ‘inadequate’

Nurses working during the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: PA/Jacob King

Nurses working during the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: PA/Jacob King - Credit: PA

Nurses at Queen’s and King George hospitals are worried the lack of testing and protective equipment is spreading coronavirus among staff and patients.

A senior nurse who works across both hospitals and is self-isolating with severe symptoms of Covid-19 told the Recorder she thinks it should be mandatory that her colleagues are tested and contact tracing should take place to contain the spread of the virus.

She also said the personal protective equipment supplied to them is not adequate.

Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals Trust (BHRUT), which runs both hospitals, is following current national guidance and so is not conducting contact tracing of any staff member who tests positive for Covid-19.

Contact tracing is the process where health officials will identify anyone who had close contact with the person during the time they are considered to be infectious to prevent the spreading of the virus.

Instead BHRUT is allowing close colleagues of infected staff members to continue working and is advising them to self-isolate only if they are showing symptoms themselves.

The senior nurse, who asked not to be named, said: “What if my colleagues are already carrying the virus from me, are they going to just continue working and spread the virus to other colleagues, or worse, the patients?”

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She estimates there are more than 300 staff members across both hospitals who are self-isolating but only a few have actually been tested.

Since she went into self-isolation with severe symptoms she said at least three of her colleagues had to self-isolate as well.

She also said nurses are often only given a surgical mask and plastic apron to help Covid-19 patients.

She said: “Our arms are exposed and not protected and we don’t have protective footwear to cover our shoes.

“How is that adequate to protect ourselves from spreading the virus if we’re not being given the appropriate equipment that will protect us from head to toe?”

BHRUT’s chief medical officer Magda Smith said keeping staff safe is one of the trust’s highest priorities.

She said: “We are following all the national guidelines by providing the necessary PPE for staff caring for patients with Covid-19.

“In cases where staff are carrying out aerosol generating procedures, they are provided with a disposable gown, filtering face piece respirator mask, gloves and eye protection.”

However the Recorder spoke to two nurses who said this isn’t the case.

The senior nurse who was interviewed for this story said she is scared for her life as she struggles to recover from severe Covid-19 symptoms.

When she first developed symptoms last week she had a severe headache that was “unimaginable and unexplainable”.

It was so painful she thought she was going to pass out.

Her breathing was so constricted she felt the only way she could breathe was to take her clothes off.

“The headache was almost as if I was going to have a stroke, that one simple move of my head was going to make my veins pop.

“It wasn’t an ordinary headache, it was something really different.”

Her joints hurt so bad that every step she took caused excruciating pain.

She said: “We as frontliners are doing the best we can, risking our lives to help and try to protect others but it would be nice to have all the equipment needed and testing done for all frontliners.

“As a first world country and one of the richest countries in the world we could’ve done better.”