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NHS staff on coronavirus front line ‘can’t just get by with being called brave’

Union rep warns nurses 'are running on adrenaline alone and that adrenaline is going to run out soon'

19 March, 2020 — By Tom Foot

Janet Maiden works at UCLH

NHS staff are running on “adrenaline which is going to run out soon” and are in desperate need of accommodation close to hospitals, according to a nurse in the thick of the fight against coronavirus.

The warning came as University College London Hospitals confirmed that six people who had tested positive for Covid-19 have died there. Many more patients are being treated at the UCLH, the Royal Free in Hampstead and the Whittington in Archway, as beds are made available to meet the rising number of cases.

Janet Maiden, who works at UCLH, said staff on the NHS frontline are coping with unprecedented demand and cannot “live on being called a hero forever”.

She said: “There’s a lot of nursing accommodation but there needs to be a lot more. Since people aren’t supposed to travel, they need to look at taking over hotels – places like the Travelodge at Euston. There needs to be a financial incentive to help retired nurses come back into work. People are running on adrenaline alone and that adrenaline is going to run out soon. You can’t actually live on being called ‘a hero’. People can’t sustain working six day weeks like this, especially if they get ill themselves. “They are called heroes but they are people with normal families.”

Ms Maiden, speaking as a rep for the Unison union, said she had seen staff having to “improvise with plastic goggles” instead of proper protective equipment that was not always being replaced.

Janet Maiden

She added: “It is madness we are not actually being tested. I am about to start 60-hour week. But we’re still as health workers being told to stay at home for two weeks [if we have symptoms]. “The big change we are seeing is that we have our first inpatients at UCLH now. It’s not massive, it’s 20. Just transferring them is a big procedure. If we haven’t got the right visors, goggles and masks we have to improvise. But that is a cry heard throughout the NHS.”

One hundred and four people have died nationally and there have been more than 2,600 positive tests – this does not take into account that many people are not being tested and treating themselves at home.

On Wednesday, former health secretary Jeremy Hunt demanded the government ramped up its testing programme, but Ms Maiden said: “I do think Jeremy Hunt has got a lot of gall, saying what he said this week. He was the health minister for six years, he presided over the closure of 17,000 beds. He said his biggest regret is not training nurses and doctors. I’ve been shouting at the telly for years saying, ‘you love nurses, why don’t you pay them more?’ Boris Johnson has promised 40 new hospitals – just emulate Wuhan and build one.”

A change in government advice means people who develop a fever or a new, persistent dry cough are being asked to stay at home for 14 days, alongside anybody they live with.

Over-70s and vulnerable residents are being asked to self-isolate, while people have been asked to begin “social distancing” and avoiding non-essential travel, particularly on public transport.

Mr Johnson said: “This enemy can be deadly, but it is also beatable – and we know how to beat it and we know that if as a country we follow the scientific advice that is now being given, we know that we will beat it. And, however tough the months ahead, we have the resolve and the resources to win the fight.”

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