Student nurses and doctors explain what it’s like working in the NHS right now

‘As a new nurse, I’m really worried about my own mental health’


With the cases of coronavirus rapidly increasing every day, the pressure on NHS staff has become significantly greater. Among this staff are both student nurses and doctors, as well as newly qualified staff who have only been in the job for six months, since their summer graduation. These very new members of the NHS are now on the frontline of a global crisis.

We spoke to a group of student nurses, doctors, and recent med graduates working amid this pandemic. We asked them how coronavirus has affected hospital protocol, as well as their work environment, hours and their mental health.

Although some students have been sent home from placement and others said not much has changed, most people told us how significantly this has impacted things. This is what they said:

You have to take your uniform home in a special bag and wash it

One nurse said she has to take her uniform home in a designated bag and wash it every night.

She explained: “We’re not allowed to wear our uniform home. This is meant to be a general rule anyway but if, like me, staff are driving home they’re allowed to wear uniform home. This is now strictly forbidden. More so, we have a special bag we have to put it in and it has to be washed each night”.

She went on to explain that this doesn’t actually make much hygienic difference, it’s more in case patients or the public see her leaving in her uniform. She explained: “The risk of contamination on our uniforms is tiny. We’ve just been told it’s for public perception.”

All suspected patients are being kept together

With such rapidly increasing numbers, this becomes more difficult to manage so a lot of hospitals keep infected patients together. One nurse explained: “Something that has changed in the hospital is that we try to keep all suspected patients as together as possible to prevent the spread, these rooms are called isolation rooms”.

Anyone working in the isolation rooms has to wear a mask at all times

Some nurses and doctors said you have to wear a mask at all times, others said this isn’t the case for their hospital. One student nurse explained:  “you do if you’re working in the isolation rooms, but other than that you just have to thoroughly wash your hands after each patient – which is the normal protocol”.

Hospitals are running out of hand sanitizer and can’t order more

With the hand sanitiser shortage across the UK, hospitals are really struggling to restock their supplies. One student explained: “Our hospital has run out of hand sanitiser which is a nightmare because we can’t order any more as there’s a shortage”.

Masks and aprons are already starting to run out

Hand sanitiser is not the only thing in short supply. Even though the problem of coronavirus in the UK is fairly recent, vital equipment is already running out. One doctor who is working in a hospital with significantly high levels of coronavirus outbreaks explained that masks and aprons are already running low, she said: “I’m now having to hide masks and aprons on the ward so I have some when I see my patients”.

Specialists are being sent home to prevent them from getting ill

Apparently in a lot of hospitals specialist doctors are being sent home to protect them from catching coronavirus.

One student nurse explained: “A lot of staff are being given time off to ‘rest’ but this basically means their being sent home for the time being to keep them healthy. They can then be called in as and when they’re needed. This makes a lot of sense – it would be a big problem if most of our specialist staff were unable to work”.

She went on to explain that other staff are also being sent home to try and manage contamination. She said: “There’s a high chance that most members of staff will catch coronavirus, so the hospital has sent some people home to keep healthy, who will then be called back in when the current staff inevitably get ill”.

Staff are being begged to work overtime

Last week the CEO of the NHS said up to 18,000 student nurses will be mobilised to help tackle the spread of coronavirus in the UK. This pressure on working hours has also been placed on staff currently working. One nurse said she and her colleagues are being “begged to work overtime”.

Visitors are still coming in and not taking this problem seriously

Apparently, a big problem at the hospitals is that visitors are still coming in to visit people, especially older relatives, without considering they could be contaminated. One student explained: “The girls I live with say visitors are still coming to the hospital and not considering people who are most vulnerable”.

Infection control update the staff every day – it changes so rapidly

Infection control is a team working within the hospital that briefs the senior staff every morning with updates. The senior staff then guide the other nurses, doctors and students on the ward. One nurse explained: “it changes so quickly every day, there’s no predicting how the situation will develop each day.”

“As a new nurse, I’m really worried about my own mental health”

Naturally, a lot of the staff and students have noticed the sudden changes and increased pressure in their jobs has started to impact their mental health. Aside from being at the centre of a pandemic, one nurse explained that social distancing means she has no time to socialise and unwind, which she heavily relies on.

She told us: “I think the worry for me as a new nurse is my mental health. We already have a lot to take on board and now my life is just work and being stuck at home. I rely a lot on seeing friends to unwind and to escape and now that’s impossible”.

Seeing friends and family is becoming increasingly difficult

Visiting friends and family for support during such an intense time is now really hard for staff because they’re scared of what they could pass on. One student explained: “A few of my friends at home are already quite reluctant to see me because they know I’m in contact with it and obviously don’t wanna risk catching it and passing it on”. There isn’t much room for an escape or support for them outside of work.

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