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Coronavirus and Britain: A nurse from Kerala shares her experience

Lack of Personal Protection Equipments (PPE) and staff crunch could prove problematic in the UK, a Malayali nurse from there tells The New Indian Express.

Published: 24th March 2020 07:58 PM  |   Last Updated: 24th March 2020 11:19 PM   |  A+A-

National Health Service staff show their ID at a Sainsbury's supermarket 30 minutes before other customers at the start of trading. (Photo | AP)

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"Some of the best nurses we have, the nurses we learn from actually, come from South India. Kerala - in particular. We are absolutely reliant on them and other EU nationals who come here and work..." 

This clip from former British MP Anna Soubry's interview to the BBC is now doing the rounds on social media.

Soubry rightly points out the role of foreign workforce in the British medical sector and says they are at the forefront of the fight against the virus that has claimed over 300 lives so far in the United Kingdom. 

So, how is the UK's fight against coronavirus going?

24-year-old Sangeetha (name changed on request), a native of Kerala's Kottayam, who is a nurse at the Basildon University Hospital, Essex told The New Indian Express that the British health department is handling the situation well and is regularly passing instructions over the email. But, lack of Personal Protection Equipments (PPE) and staff crunch could prove problematic, she said. 

"Masks are not promoted among health workers here as they consider it a practice degrading the dignity of patients. So, we generally work without wearing them. This extremely courteous culture is a little too much for employees from other countries. Many consider this practice a threat to life and have begun raising objections," she said.

Even after repeated requests, nurses working in general wards are not allowed to use masks unless they are dealing with a suspected coronavirus case, she said. However, all Personal Protective Equipment including masks is mandatory for those working in isolation wards.

Earlier, the chair of the Doctors' Association had condemned the lack of PPE at hospitals and said medics were being treated as "cannon fodder" and were like "lambs to the slaughter."

"Young employees like us are okay with this practice to some extent, but senior colleagues, who are living here with their families and have kids at home, are gravely concerned. 

"This is a national trend and is not limited to any county or hospital in particular. A friend of mine, who is now working in Australia, said the unavailability of PPE kits is a major problem there as well," said Sangeetha.

Though increasing cases pose a threat to the National Health Service (NHS), hospitals across England have coped so far and the work pressure and stress too have been manageable, Sangeetha said.

"Health personnel's work schedule here is not very hectic as in India. The mandatory working hours are 37.7 per week, which means you have to work just three days unless you want to volunteer for extra hours. Working on Sundays means you receive double payment and the whole system remains unchanged even in these difficult times." 

She said staff across departments chip in and share the workload. 

"I haven't worked in the COVID-19 isolation ward yet since I get deployed at the cardiac ward most times. But still, it has become impossible to stay away from fever cases now. We attend to people who come with symptoms and with queries about the virus and recently, I had to take the throat swab from a suspected case," she said.

Coronavirus fears might have seen Indian medical staff getting ostracised and even evicted from their residences by landlords, but Sangeetha said that there was no such issue in England. In fact, their work has come in for appreciation from many quarters.

Working at the hospitals has not hampered their social life so far, Sangeetha adds. The hospital authority also monitors the health status of the employees regularly, she said.

"A colleague who had developed fever and cold was asked to self-isolate for a week. When she called after a week to communicate her willingness to report for duty, she was asked to extend her leave for a week more as she had a symptomatic cough."

Sangeetha said usually it takes 4-5 days for a coronavirus test result to return from labs. Though they have vowed to make it available under 48 hours, it has not happened so far.

As of March 24, more than 6,650 cases have been confirmed in the UK and over 77,000 people have been tested.

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