NHS staff face burnout as Covid Christmas nears

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During this second lockdown, it is notable that while deaths from Covid-19 as a percentage appear to have fallen, hospital admissions are rising rapidly. In some parts of the country, we are once again facing the possibility that hospitals will be overwhelmed. Operating lists have been cut – I write this having had to cancel three brain operations today, thus having time on my hands – and cancer treatments are in freefall. But this time we have the shiny Nightingale hospitals – don’t we?

If this resource is to be deployed, now is the time to do it. One of the main problems in our hospitals, already struggling to cope before the pandemic due to years of cuts, is the segregation of Covid and non-Covid patients, and this is where the Nightingale hospitals should come in. But there is a curious reluctance to use them: at the height of the first wave, there were only a few token admissions, and this time – nothing. Government and local NHS managers are curiously silent.

The reality is that these “hospitals” are empty shells: an expensive PR stunt that cannot possibly be utilised because the staff simply don’t exist. Where would they come from? Medical, nursing and other personnel – in many cases approaching burnout – cannot be in two places at once, and the brave retirees who have volunteered would be a drop in the ocean.

Is there a role for this resource? Perhaps – but first there needs to be an honest admission of the problem, and a desire to compromise. Beds and ventilators gather dust while the pandemic marches on.
Alistair Jenkins
Consultant neurosurgeon, Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle

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This obsession with finding a way to save Christmas (England told to expect tougher Covid rules to allow for Christmas gatherings, 18 November) strikes me as profoundly disrespectful to the NHS that this government and the public were so keen to applaud. My wife is a GP and, like so many of her colleagues, is experiencing extreme burnout due to the incredible stress that the pandemic has placed upon her. Every day, she is treating other health workers experiencing the same. Workers are utterly defeated.

The idea that we can trade a spike in cases, and potential further lockdowns, for a five-day jolly, leaving our overstretched medical workers to pick up the pieces on the other side, strikes me as shamefully selfish. Rather than desperately seeking the affection and adoration of the public, surely our prime minister should abandon his role as the seediest Santa in Lapland and help the country face the fact that the loss of one Christmas is a small price to pay for the health and wellbeing of our health workers?
Jonathan Humphreys

All four governments of the UK are reportedly tying themselves in knots to “save Christmas,” but it’s becoming clear that if the festival goes ahead as they seem to anticipate – with lots of family gatherings at least, and possibly all the usual high-street shopping sprees as well – it will be at huge risk to us all. I can think of lots of ways to enjoy Christmas without mixing outside my household, or exchanging loads of presents, and I’m sure other people can too.

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People who live alone may feel differently, but hopefully they have the support bubble system to compensate; and students should be allowed to return home. Otherwise, I’d like to start a “Do Christmas differently in 2020 to save Christmas in 2021” campaign, and encourage people to share their ideas for a non-traditional but still enjoyable and memorable Covid-safe Christmas.
Sue Sedgwick