COVID-19: Doctor warns NHS staff are at ‘absolute limit’ and are ‘exhausted’

An intensive care doctor has said NHS staff are being “stretched to the absolute limit” and warned families against meeting up in each other’s homes.

As hospitals around the UK continue to fill up with coronavirus patients, ICU doctor Rupert Pearse told Sky News how healthcare workers are battling to keep going despite their exhaustion and with no end in sight yet.

He explained that while cases had peaked in the first wave within weeks, the second wave has been “going on and on and on” since late October.

“It doesn’t look like it’s going to stop until the end of January if we’re lucky,” he said, “Maintaining that level of response for this period of time is proving exhausting for NHS staff.

“People are going home and finding it hard to sleep, finding it very hard to relax, and that means they’re still tired when they get up the next day to go back to work.”

COVID-19 cases have been rising dramatically since the beginning of December, in part due to a new, more transmissible variant of the virus.

This, and now the impact of household mixing over Christmas, has led to a spike in hospital admissions and left NHS trusts in London and the South East at risk of being overwhelmed.

A survey by Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed 44% of adults in England, Scotland and Wales said they formed a Christmas bubble on 25 December.

Despite this, Dr Pearse said NHS staff still have an “absolute determination” to “deliver the best possible quality care they can”.

“But I think it’s obvious to anybody that our ability to do that is being stretched to the absolute limit,” he warned.

“I think the area of quality that is affected the most right now is the fact that we’re so focused on patients with emergency problems that we’re not able to do as much of the planned care that we need to do.

“So things like outpatients clinics and elective surgeries are not happening in the way that they normally would.”

In a plea to those breaking the rules, the ICU doctor said: “We’re all in this together… The solution to this pandemic is within our control if we come together as a team.

“We can control this virus like we did in the first wave if we follow the government rules.”

He urged families to stop mixing in each other’s homes, saying it is “one of the worst places in terms of transmission”.

Dr Pearse’s warning comes as the UK reported a further 1,325 deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test and 68,053 new cases.

Public Health England (PHE) has said we can “expect the death toll to continue to rise until we stop the spread”.

Responding to the latest figures, PHE director for the COVID-19 response Dr William Welfare said: “Approximately 1 in 3 people who have coronavirus have no symptoms and could be spreading it without realising it.

“To protect our loved ones it is essential we all stay at home where possible.”

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