AN ANONYMOUS staff member at the Royal Berkshire Hospital has spoken out about what working life has been like on the coronavirus frontline.

The healthcare professional, who did not want to give his name, said there was “a level of fear and concern” at first due to a lack of protective gear and testing. He works with patients who aren’t in critical care, but with some who might have the virus.

But over the past couple of the weeks, he said working conditions at the hospital have improved, and he praised the management for their leadership during the Covid-19 crisis.

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He said: “To begin with, PPE was scant. Now, it’s basically in place and we have the masks, gloves and aprons that we need. The situation is fine now, but it was too late for some. The management at RBH had their hands tied though. There’s not a lot they could have done, given the PPE just wasn’t there.”

He admitted that sometimes staff “take risks” due to a lack of time. If a patient coughs onto a member of staff, then “you would have to change all of your clothes”. But that isn’t always possible, depending on how much time staff have available. “Sometimes you would just carry on, and accept that you’re a potential cause of contagion yourself.”

Most staff members have not had to work excessive hours, he said, although leave was cancelled and people were asked to be available and on call. “Two to three weeks ago we were bracing for a tsunami.”

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But he praised how the hospital prepared for the virus. “The hospital discharged all of the nonessential people and shut down all the non-critical services, to catch as many of the incoming tsunami of Covid patients as they could. And it worked.”

The first person in the UK to die with the virus was at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, which the worker believes prompted early action and saved lives.

“There was a level of fear at first. I was scared. But then I got used to it, PPE started to roll in, and the morale has come back. Now things are happening much faster. The whole operation is much more seamless. I haven’t seen morale as good as this for a long time.”

At first, staff were tested according to priority, but it’s now “pretty much available to all who request it”.

The anonymous worker put the blame for the UK’s high death rate on austerity — particularly cuts to social care budgets. “Care homes were a sitting duck,” he said. “It’s an outrage that we have the second highest number of deaths in the world.” 

He added: “It’s reinforced my dedication to the NHS and its principles. The NHS means something very tangible. It belongs to the people, it’s a socialist project, and the British people have come to see how critical it is. Being part of that has been morale-boosting — even though dicey at times.”

Responding to the interview, a spokesperson for the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust said: “It’s pleasing to hear this staff member believes the situation at the hospital is being carefully managed and he feels supported.”

Staff and patient safety has been a priority, the spokesperson said, including training on how to use PPE. “We have maintained adequate levels of PPE for staff throughout the outbreak and there has always been sufficient supplies available for staff who need it. We also made major efforts to ensure staff testing is easy to access and carried out as swiftly as possible.”

The hospital paused staff taking annual leave at the start of the outbreak, but that was later lifted. Also at first, the hospital discharged “as many patients safely as we could”, and paused routine and elective surgery. 

The spokesperson said: “However, over the next few weeks, we are starting to resume this work, ensuring patients and staff are safe as we do so. 

“We will be doing this gradually and carefully as the virus is still not eradicated and we must stay prepared for any possible rise in cases over the next few months.”