Nurse urges public to ‘play your part’ in Covid battle

A NURSE on the front-line of the Covid-19 pandemic at Letterkenny University Hospital (LUH) is pleading for the public to play their part in curbing the spread of the virus.
Treasa Toye, who works in the high dependency unit, admitted she and her colleagues are finding it mentally and physically draining working in these very trying circumstances.
A massive surge in patient numbers saw ambulances queue up outside LUH last Sunday evening. On Tuesday there were 103 Covid-19 patients in Letterkenny, of which three are in ICU.
Ms Toye, a mother of five from Creeslough, is urging everyone to reduce their face-to-face contacts over the coming days and weeks.
Having worked at LUH for 16 years,  she is very concerned about how casual some people have become about keeping their social circle small to contain the spread of coronavirus.
Huge numbers of people presenting with Covid-19 and non-Covid illnesses are putting increasing pressure on Letterkenny hospital which is understaffed, with many of her colleagues out of work because of the virus.
On Tuesday, there were 146 staff off work due to Covid-19 and this includes staff who have Covid-19, symptomatic staff, staff who are close contacts of a positive case, and staff who are cocooning because they are considered in an at-risk category.
“We want to be here. We want to help people but it is very draining. It is mentally and physically tough. We are in the eye of a storm at the moment. People are exhausted. We have been dealing with this since last March. It is so tough. I am wrecked. It takes its toll,” she said.
“Staffing remains the big issue. Management are doing their best and there’s a recruitment process underway but they’re finding it difficult to source staff. You simply can’t knit a nurse,” she added.
Working full-time, Treasa is also trying to find the time for some post-grad study as well as home-schooling twins who celebrate their third birthday on Monday next.
“Childcare is another major issue for a lot of us. It’s not a unique problem to Letterkenny and, again, management are trying to accommodate staff where possible. We don’t know how long schools will be closed but unless the Government steps in soon and addresses child-care issues among nurses we are going to run out of staff,” she warned.
Treasa works nights as it allows her to get a few hours sleep in the mornings before she takes over parenting duties. As an INMO union rep she’s also busy answering texts and calls each day from worried members.
“I’m off a few days this week but I’m getting texts and calls most days asking if we can come back into work – even for a few hours. They haven’t cancelled annual leave and, in fairness, we’re being put under no undue pressures but at the same time you’re conscious that your colleagues at work are short-staffed.
“Local management are being as supportive as they can be but they’re under immense pressure as well,” she said.
With reports this week that the health system was coming under “increasing strain”, she said it shouldn’t have come as any great surprise to those in authority.
“Nobody can say that they didn’t see this coming although nothing could prepare you for the pressure that Letterkenny is under at the minute. We’re an isolated hospital and we’re not like Dublin where they can pull staff in from another hospital or dip into a large agency pool to get nurses.
“We’re in a very compromised position up here. There’s no other hospitals around us and we don’t have agency nurses to call on. Added to that all the community hospitals in Donegal are also full at present,” she said.
Despite her sheer exhaustion at times Treasa, who is completing her Post grad in advanced Leadership, never felt any fear arriving into work post-Covid.
“This is my job and I just get on with it. It is our vocation. It can be tough especially when we are running at capacity and I don’t know where they will get the staff.
“We’re trying to do our best for patients and to give them the highest possible quality of care that we can. There’s no visitors in the hospital so we’re the only friendly faces that patients see. As well as providing medical and clinical care we’re also looking after their psychological and holistic needs. That puts additional pressure on us as we’re also trying to maintain our own mental health,” she said.
With the vaccine programme being rolled out to staff in LUH in recent days, Treasa believes that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
However, it will be some months yet before everyone is vaccinated and in the meantime she is urging every to redouble their efforts.
“Treat everybody, and yourself, as if they’re Covid positive. Keep away from people. For those people who still think it’s a hoax I would ask them to spend one day in my shoes. I’ve worked in intensive care before and it’s more than likely that I’ll be back there again in the coming days with the rising numbers.
“During the first wave many of us were all redeployed to ICU and I’ve never seen anything like it. It was frightening.
“A second ICU has been set up – one Covid and one non-Covid – and that means trying to staff them both. We’re very short of staff which means that we’re upskilling nurses,” she said.
“I might be okay but I’ve two babies that were premature and I have to think of them.
“Everybody has somebody vulnerable at home and people should really think about that,” she said.

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