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Nurse who was hospitalised with Covid-19 criticises low staffing and says she was 'extremely burned out'

The INMO said that it would be “inhumane” to not increase healthcare staff ahead of a second Covid-19 wave.

Image: Oireachtas/Seanad Éireann

Updated Jul 21st 2020, 11:30 AM

THE IRISH NURSES and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has said that it would be “inhumane” to not increase healthcare staff ahead of a second Covid-19 wave, and called on implementing measures to protect nurses and other healthcare workers.

Appearing before the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid Response, a 27-year-old nurse Siobhán Murphy gave evidence of how inadequate staffing levels and “being completely overwhelmed” with the ‘expanding’ role of the nurse, “extreme burnout” as well as “overexposure” to Covid-19 contributed to her contracting the virus.

She said she was “crippled with fatigue, bed-bound with headaches”, and lost her sense of taste and smell.

Despite having no previous or underlying conditions, Murphy required hospital treatment for a week due to escalating symptoms from Covid-19 that weren’t going away by themselves at her home. 

Murphy hasn’t returned to work since contracting the virus 12 weeks ago, as she is still experiencing the physical and mental side effects from contracting the virus.

She says that she suffered from hallucinations at the start of Covid-19, which “is something that isn’t spoken about”. She experiences fatigue and shortness of breath still, and suffers from insomnia, sometimes getting as little as three hours sleep a night.

“I’m still off work at the moment, as are three of my colleagues. Four colleagues required hospital treatment due to contracting Covid-19,” she told the committee.

On her ward there were 19 nurses, and 12 of them got infected with Covid-19. 

“I believe I was competent in [putting on PPE], we had extensive training and education,” she said.

Murphy spoke about the psychological impact of Covid-19 on her and her colleagues, and said that more needed to be done to support them.

“I would have been standing as a nurse at the bedside, providing care to patients who succumbed to Covid-19. That’s extremely traumatizing and I don’t know if any nurse could overcome that, with just a [helpline] number or an app.

We are nurses to save lives, and but we were fighting a losing battle at the start of Covid-19 and we don’t want to see that again.

Phil Ni S Source: Oireachtas Committee

INMO General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha pointed out that when this happened, there was no replacement nurse available, which put Siobhán and her colleagues at risk.

Ní Sheaghdha and union representatives from Siptu and Fórsa have called on actions being taken so that healthcare workers are not overwhelmed and fatigued again in the event of a second wave of Covid-19.

This includes increasing staffing levels so that if a healthcare worker falls ill, they can be replaced – the committee heard that it wouldn’t be unusual for one nurse to have around 30 patients.

“It is simply unfair it is inhumane to ask them to go back to that level of crazy staffing,” she said.

INMO survey

Almost two thirds of nurses who have recovered from Covid-19 are still experiencing post-viral fatigue, the INMO said.

According to a recent survey by the union, of the 545 respondents who said they had recovered from the virus, 497 (91%) stated they continued to experience symptoms, which also included mental health difficulties, headaches and breathing problems.

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Other post-viral symptoms cited by respondents included anxiety, trouble concentrating or “brain fog”, dizziness, light-headedness, recurring fever and palpitations.

Four in five of all 7,000 nurses and midwives surveyed, including those who did not contract Covid-19, said that working in the health service during the pandemic substantially or somewhat impacted their mental health.

The INMO presented their findings to the Oireachtas Covid-19 Committee this morning, in a bid to highlight the importance of safe staffing in the coming months.

Phil Ní Sheaghdha said: “Fatigue is a major risk to patient and staff safety, especially in a pandemic. Many of our members are reporting that despite recovery, they are still facing exhaustion.

“The impacts of this virus can be long-lasting, so nurses and midwives returning to work after recovery are going to need support. For many, there will be a long road to full recovery.

“They will also need certainty that past mistakes are being corrected. The Government should empower the Health and Safety Authority to investigate cases.”

- with reporting from the Press Association

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