COVID-19: 'I Worry I've Run Out of Tears'

Peter Russell

February 04, 2021

Frontline doctors presented harrowing accounts of the impact on mental health to NHS workers from dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic as they called for a national coronavirus trauma recovery plan.

One senior doctor spoke of being "terrified" by what healthcare workers were going through a year on from the start of the pandemic. Another described feeling "beaten to the ground".

In a first public press conference, members of EveryDoctor, urged the Government to resist easing lockdown restrictions too early and risking a third wave of COVID-19.

Dr Julia Patterson, the group's chief executive, said: "Frontline staff are utterly exhausted and have endured enormous pressure, many without rest, for 11 months now. It will take years for all of us to process the grief and traumatic effects of this pandemic."

'My Heart Was Split in Two'

In an emotional video, Dr Jess Potter, a London respiratory consultant, who was unable to attend the online briefing because she was on shift, described feeling worried that she had "run out of tears" after phone calls to anguished relatives telling them that a patient would not survive.

"Sometimes I felt like my heart was literally going to split in two – love and goodbyes pouring out of the speaker I held to your ear in your last moments," she said.

"This isn't a unique story," said Dr Patterson. "We hear similar accounts from many, many doctors every day."

Stories from doctors, such as a senior A&E medic who spoke of anxiety, lack of sleep, and being unable to keep up with normal life: "Like taxing your car, cleaning your house, making dinners, and making sure that your children, yourself, your partner are happy and are doing okay."

Speaking anonymously, she said: "We make difficult decisions, and we watch tragedies unfold in front of us day after day, and our usual coping mechanisms are gone.

"I have never seen such sadness from my colleagues."

NHS Underfunding

Dr Megan Smith is preparing for a 12 hour shift tomorrow intubating the most seriously ill patients with COVID-19.

From her hospital window she has a panoramic view across the Thames to the Houses of Parliament.

"Thanks to a decade of chronic underfunding and austerity, before the pandemic the NHS was pretty close to breaking point and those working in it were pretty close to breaking point," she said.

"Now they are, and it is broken."

The consultant anaesthetist said: "Whatever the allegiance of our political leaders, and our NHS leaders, quite frankly, they must now work together to protect the NHS, to protect staff who work in it, and to protect the public. We can't absorb a third wave, and there's no right to expect us to do so."

EveryDoctor has called for investment in mental health and trauma recovery initiatives to protect NHS staff and the public and to address staff shortages in the mental health sector.

Lockdown Caution

As Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, confirmed today that England's economy would be unlocked gradually after the possible return of schools at the beginning of March, EveryDoctor appealed to the Government to ensure that any easing of restrictions did not risk overwhelming the NHS with COVID-19 patients.

Dr Deepti Gurdasani, senior lecturer at the William Harvey Research Institute, said relying on COVID-19 vaccination alone would be misguided. "It's not going to have a substantial impact on transmission, because just vaccinating 20% of the population is not going to have a substantial impact on transmission, so we're going to keep seeing cases, and all the attendant impacts."

EveryDoctor is a campaigning organisation representing more than 1600 doctors in the UK.

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