08 Dec 2021

On the frontline at Naas Hospital: Nurses face toughest of tests

Pressure: Frontline medical staff are just about coping with the demands of Covid-19 in Naas

On the frontline at Naas Hospital: Nurses face toughest of tests

Naas Hospital Nurse Elaine Steed in full PPE

Nurses working at the frontline of the battle against Covid-19 Naas General Hospital are coming under increasing pressure as more patients arrive at the facility.

The physical and mental demands of the jobs have increased, mealtimes are rushed at best and postponed at worst. And colleagues can and do fall sick.

The typical working day lasts 12 and a half hours. “We are facing extraordinary times and nothing would have prepared us for this; this is like nothing we’ve been used to up to now,” said nurse Elaine Steed.

County Tipperary native Ms Steed has been in the nursing profession for 25 years and is among the health workers dealing with the consequences of the coronavirus at NGH, which serves County Kildare west Wicklow — a population exceeding 220,000.

“It is very challenging now but there is great support from everybody, nurse managers, doctors and emergency department consultants. We are trying to be as flexible as we can in dealing with this.”

Ms Steed has worked at NGH since 2005 and in the emergency department there since 2014.

“The pressure is above and beyond what any of us have encountered before now; it is mentally and physically draining and I’d say the mental impact is greater than the physical demands.”

The emergency department is split into two zones, one accommodating the routine emergency cases and the other devoted to those with showing symptoms of Covid-19.

“Obviously there is a need for separation and the demands on us are changing daily as the workload changes.

“At the moment we’re doing alright, we are coping but if there is a rush of coronavirus cases that will change.”

Elaine Steed

It is understood that hospital management have reduced the number of beds in non-emergency wards from six to four so that social distancing can be achieved.

Staff, including nurses, are required to put on and remove personal protection equipment like gowns, masks and shoe covers several times a day, every day.

“We have to move around sometimes unavoidably close to each other and in confined areas and this is necessary.”

The stress of the job is ever present and not just because the shifts are long.

“When we are not working we are thinking of what is ahead of us when we return, especially the night before we start again or in the hours leading up to another shift.”

“We’ll be wondering how everyone else is coping and how they are doing. The pressure is ever present, even when walking down a corridor you’re thinking ‘what am I going into’.”

She added: “Because of illness there might be nobody to relieve me at the end of my shift or someone you were supposed to start work with is out. We’re lucky if we can eat during a shift, let alone take a proper meal break and we put on and take off the equipment up to seven times a day.”

The road doesn’t quite end at the end of the shift, which runs for 12 and a half hours roughly between eight and eight o’clock.

The shifts are often extended because there is pressure to hand over as smoothly as possible to staff replacing those who have just finished.

Nurses work 13 shifts in a four week period. The need for more staff is apparent.

“Some staff have been out in self isolation because a patient was Covid-19 positive and we did not know, and while this is necessary it brings pressures.

“At the best of times there is a case for more nursing staff in Naas and we’ve never seen anything like this; it’s absolutely the toughest time any of us has faced.”

And so the television images of cars carrying people to Wexford and Waterford on the main route to the south east from Dublin at the start of the Easter holiday were deeply frustrating for medical staff dealing with the effects of the virus.

“This was disheartening and upsetting, there was no justification or explanation for it; we need to remember what we have to do like social distancing, washing hands, self-isolating if you suspect you’ve contracted the virus.”

At the same time the number of patients on trolleys has dropped dramatically.

And she stressed that the fears surrounding the virus should not dissuade people from coming in if they feel they may have other medical issues that require hospital treatment.

A sign posted outside Naas Hospital

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