NHS staff have ‘no more left to give’ as Scotland faces third wave, unions warn

Healthcare staff in Scotland are at breaking point as Scotland faces a third wave of Covid-19, unions have warned.

NHS staff wait to receive Covid-19 patients.
NHS staff wait to receive Covid-19 patients.

It comes as Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital had to redirect several ambulances from the emergency department amid an “overwhelming” number of Covid-19 patients on Tuesday.

The Scottish Ambulance Service and NHS boards across the country have been struggling to cope this week under the pressure of winter illness, ice and snow leading to increased falls, and a surge in Covid-19 cases.

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Positive test rates have jumped since the beginning of January, with more than 2,000 new cases reported almost every day.

Unions have warned that NHS staff are bearing the brunt of this increased pressure, after nine difficult months.

“It’s always said that staff morale is at its lowest ever, but I think genuinely we’re entering a really difficult time for the NHS,” said Graeme Eunson, chair of the Consultant’s Committee at BMA Scotland.

“We’ve had to cope with Covid for nine months, we’ve been living through the same restrictions in our day to day lives as everyone else has, at the same time as trying to maintain the high quality health service that we want to deliver.

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"We’re getting to the point now where I think staff are just expected to get back up on their feet again, dust themselves off, and go forward into what’s now going to be the third wave of this illness [...] and it's really taking a toll on the staff.”

Dr Eunson said staff are both physically and mentally exhausted.

"I’m hearing really quite harrowing tales from colleagues across the country that at the end of the shift there are tears because they just have nothing left to give,” he said.

"But we keep getting up in the morning, dusting ourselves off and turning up for another shift because that’s what we have to do... but it’s really, really difficult to do that.

"I genuinely think there are a lot of people out there who are probably looking at the last year and the sacrifices they have been making day in day out, and thinking you know what, actually, I can’t give any more, and if I keep giving more it’s going to be to my own detriment.”

Willie Duffy, head of health at Unison Scotland, said: “Staff are working day in day out in highly pressured situations, where they are not getting a minute’s peace, a minute’s respite.

"You’ve got hospitals overflowing, capacities overflowing… I know we get a lot of this at this time with the winter flu season, but they’re just not getting time to think, it’s constant.”

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine warned that staff in A&E departments are struggling to cope with increased pressure, as patients face increasing waits across the country.

“With Covid still endemic in hospitals and the community, crowded departments pose an even greater risk,” said Dr John Thomson, Vice President of RCEM in Scotland.

"Long waits in the Emergency Department are not good for anyone. It compromises the quality of care we offer to our patients; we know it compromises patient safety as it is associated with mortality. It also brings anxiety and stress to clinical staff. The pressures of winter 2020/21 are likely to be the toughest we have ever experienced.”

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