- 26 March 2020
- 5 min read
The reality of working in mental health during the Covid-19 Pandemic
A Mental Health Nurse considers her own situation and that of her patients within the context of the Coronavirus crisis and shares her concern that there is not enough PPE available to protect nurses.
Topics covered in this article
Unfamiliar territory for everyone, especially nurses
I think we can all agree that the world is quite a scary and unfamiliar place right now.
I have never in my lifetime seen the shelves in supermarkets stripped bare, had trips abroad cancelled and been told not to visit my elderly relatives.
I am fortunate that I do not have any underlying health conditions, nor do I have any children to worry about.
However, I am in the rather unfortunate position of being a mental health nurse during these unprecedented times.
So whilst much of the country is settling into our new state of ‘lockdown,’ my life remains relatively unchanged… apart from the fact I can’t see my friends or family, or do my usual hobbies, and when I go to do a food shop after work there’s very little on the shelves.
What do the Coronavirus measures mean for Mental Health Nurses?
Being a mental health nurse as opposed to a general nurse, I don’t really feel like I’m on the “frontline” of fighting this virus so to speak.
However, that doesn’t make my role any less daunting right now.
I work in inpatient services, meaning that I still have patients that need taking care of.
People haven’t suddenly stopped relapsing in their mental health as a result of this pandemic, there are still people detained under the Mental Health Act (or “sectioned” as it is colloquially known as) that need looking after by mental health nurses like myself.
In fact, many professionals are predicting that we may see a massive leap in relapses following this outbreak - due to a combination of community services being stripped back, the added stressors associated with this current outbreak and the restrictions in place on people as a result.
Fear and frustration
When people ask me how I’m feeling about the current situation, my primary feelings are fear and frustration.
Fear that my patients are not getting the mental health care and treatment that they require; staffing is reduced due to sickness, not everyone can attend meetings that require multi-disciplinary input, therapeutic activities on the ward are stripped back, and community support is significantly reduced increasing the likelihood of failed discharges.
Fear that I could inadvertently give Covid-19 to someone I love, despite every measure I’m currently putting in place to prevent that happening.
And fear that this virus could very well end up taking the life of someone I love, or a patient in my care.
I also find the amount of false information being shared about this virus terrifying, the number of people I’ve seen on social media sharing information with absolutely no credibility is unbelievable.
I’m frustrated that we as services seem woefully un-prepared for this situation.
How Coronavirus is impacting my work
Last weekend I was the bleep holder for my entire unit.
I received a phone call from a newly qualified nurse stating that she had a patient presenting with psychosis, who was showing all the symptoms of Covid-19 but was refusing to self-isolate in his bed space as he was too unwell to understand the gravity of the situation.
She was looking to me for advice and guidance, but what could I suggest?
The plan that senior management had left in place before going home on the Friday night was daily temperature monitoring for all patients, if anyone presented with a fever and/or any other symptoms, inform the on-call doctor.
But what then?
As for PPE, all I currently have access to is gloves.
We’ve been told that more substantial protective equipment has been ordered, but this situation has been ongoing and developing for weeks now.
Why has it taken this long for plans to be put in place to protect people?
The government has been too slow to react to Coronavirus
In my opinion the government has been far too slow to react to this situation, and as a result the virus is likely to spread far more than we would otherwise have seen.
Instead of learning from what was happening in other countries, they have buried their heads in the sand hoping it would go away until they couldn’t ignore it any longer.
They prioritised the profits of big businesses, by allowing them to continue to operate, over putting the country on lockdown earlier to slow down the spread.
The NHS was already struggling to cope with the lack of resources, how are we going to cope with a massive increase in the number of people requiring a high-level of medical intervention and treatment?
I don’t claim to have all the answers, but it seems obvious to me that we aren’t doing enough to protect healthcare staff and as a result placing our patients at higher risk too.
Quite frankly I am really worried that things will need to get a lot worse before proper protective measures are put in place.
What will the total cost to human life be for that delay?
I sincerely hope that my fears turn out to be unfounded, but at the moment I do not have faith in that.