NURSES and midwives in Cork have expressed concern at the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19 in Ireland and the impact it would have on hospitals and staff.
With countries in Asia and Europe witnessing sudden surges in coronavirus cases, warnings have been issued about a second wave of the deadly virus here in Ireland.
Speaking to The Echo, Cork nurses explained how the virus impacted their work and personal lives in recent months, and highlighted the importance of ensuring Ireland is prepared in the event of a second COVID-19 wave.
Sadbh Creed, a nurse at Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH), explained that once the pandemic arrived in Ireland, healthcare staff became “aware of the added threat and danger in work”.
“There was a feeling at the start that, every time we were going into work, there was this added element to it,” she said.
“When we started hearing about it first, there were preparations getting underway and we were talking about the PPE and what to do if a possible case came in.
“But at the start it all seemed very far away and then all of a sudden, we started getting cases and it was very close to home,” she added.
Sadbh explained that, as shift workers, healthcare staff have difficulties accessing childcare under normal circumstances. This was heightened during lockdown.
“We were dealing with this added stress at both work and home, and we were trying to make sure our patients didn’t feel that,” she said.
“That’s hugely important, especially in the maternity hospital where we are not usually taking care of sick people but people who are experiencing this fantastic moment in their lives and we want to ensure they fully experience it.
“For us, the focus was ensuring people were safe but that they could still experience that little bit of magic even as the world around them was in chaos.”
Sadbh praised CUH for its preparedness, as the hospital quickly erected triage tents early on to check patients temperatures before entering the hospital.
Closer to the heart of Cork city, nurses at the Mercy University Hospital (MUH) were also dealing with the unprecedented situation.
Margaret Frahill, MUH staff nurse and member of the executive council of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), said: “We have been very lucky here in the hospital because it is contained at the moment.
“I think everyone across the country is afraid of a surge,” she added.
“It is very stressful for nurses because we’re at the bedside of patients, we’re the closest to them.
“People are worried they might contract the virus but they’re more worried about bringing it home to their families.
“At the moment, MUH and Cork are doing well.
“We have plenty of PPE at the moment but for nurses and other healthcare workers on the ground, there is a concern as to how we’re going to cope in the winter time,” Margaret admitted.
“We have had to reduce our capacity throughout the hospital including in the emergency department.
“The INMO has been clear in that we are definitely going to need more beds and more nurses.
“The flu is coming down the road as well as other illnesses, including the norovirus and more, and it will be a busy time.”
Margaret admitted there is a concern a second COVID-19 wave could hit Ireland amid the busy winter period.
“Everyone is very worried at the moment because we’re seeing figures soaring in the US and India,” she said.
“We have to keep the figures down.”
Sadbh also expressed concern about the possibility of a second wave and the impact it would have on hospital activity and everyday life.
“I think we have learned a lot from that first wave,” she said.
“I think the big concern for healthcare workers, in the event of a second wave, is ensuring we have the PPE.
“There’s no point denying there were difficulties at the start in terms of getting PPE - that was well documented - and it was resolved,” she added.
“If there is a second wave, ensuring every area that needs PPE has it is important.”
Sadbh also highlighted childcare as a possible issue in the event of a second COVID-19 wave.
“We talk about it in work all the time,” she admitted.
“What will we do if the schools don’t reopen and there is a second wave?
“It’s such a huge practical thing for us everyday and it’s a huge worry,” she added, pointing to the need to keep healthcare workers safe in the event of a second surge in Covid-19.
“The elephant in the room is the rate of infection among healthcare workers.
“It was quite high during the first wave and you can’t ignore that.
“What will we do if there is a second wave to stop that being the case?” she asked.
Sadbh also highlighted the need for hospitals to be able to continue offering outpatient and elective appointments as well as screening programmes even in the event of a possible second wave.
“We managed the first wave of coronavirus well but lots of other aspects had to be put on hold to enable us to do that,” she said.
“We need to find that balance between continuing with the normal workings of a hospital and dealing with a possible second coronavirus wave along with a busy winter flu period.”
Faced with the prospect of a busy winter flu season and possible second coronavirus wave, both nurses expressed concerns over the heightened possibility of burnout among healthcare staff.
“It’s difficult enough every year dealing with the flu season in normal circumstances so this year could be exceptionally difficult for staff,” said Sadbh.
“This is why it’s so important to have proper screening in place, especially for staff.
“We need all our staff on the ground and we can’t afford to have staff being forced to self-isolate if they don’t have the coronavirus,” she added.
“We need to know quickly whether someone has it or not and go from there.”
As well as the prospect of losing staff to two-week quarantines, Sadbh revealed that hospitals are facing the possibility of staff leaving their posts altogether.
“It’s been well documented that we’re understaffed and there was a lot made of people coming back from abroad to work here but I don’t think we’ve made a dent in it,” she said.
“Where I’m working now, there are lots of people who are planning on leaving in the coming months after their plans were stalled by the coronavirus.”
Margaret added: “It’s very hard to recruit at the moment.
“There are also a lot of nurses who are fearful of getting the coronavirus,” she said.
“I know some who did contract it and they are still unwell, they’re still fatigued and tired because of it.
“Nurses are coming to work every day and we are fearful of burnout.
“We need more nurses and that has been proven nationally but it’s hard to recruit at the moment. Phil Ni Sheaghdha is highlighting the need for more nurses and beds and every healthcare worker is shouting for it too.”