A paramedic has spoken about the “heartbreaking” reality of having to treat patients who refuse to wear a mask after he and his heavily pregnant wife were both struck down with Covid.
The 34-year-old NHS worker from the south of England, who has asked not to be named, fell ill with coronavirus after attending to a patient in late December.
That led to ten days of isolation for both him and his wife, who also caught Covid.
They are both now recovering, but the medic has spoken out about having to work on the frontline to fight the virus, only to be met with patients refusing to comply with requests to wear a mask.
Describing the incident in question, he said: “We went into the house – normally we would shout from the doorway to ask them to put a mask on. They told us they were exempt, which is fine – some people just can’t wear masks, but we were attending to someone who had received a positive test result.
“We now carry perspex face shields and we offered them one as an alternative. They coughed everywhere, to the extent that they were lifting the face shield to cough.
“There was a point where I was knelt down underneath them, trying to put an IV line in them, and they coughed straight down my face.”
Although the paramedic HuffPost UK spoke to had managed to avoid falling ill for the entirety of 2020, he explained that situations like the one he had dealt with on December 30 had become relatively common.
In one instance, he said, a woman who had tested positive for the virus insisted she wouldn’t wear a mask because she believed – without medical advice telling her so – that she was no longer infectious.
In another situation, the family of a Covid patient accused the ambulance crew of treating their relative “as though they had the plague” after staff attempted to maintain their distance as much as possible while attending the patient.
“It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “I joined this profession to help people. We don’t get a choice in who we help, and I really, genuinely don’t mind who you are, you get treatment from us.
“But it is beginning to really stick in the core a bit, it’s really hard when people refuse to wear a mask or people have clearly had a houseful of people before you’ve arrived.
“You can’t really challenge people on why they’re not wearing a mask, if they’re saying they’re exempt they’re exempt. You can’t force them.”
The paramedic also raised concerns about the level of PPE given to ambulance workers, with the current policy for staff being that the common fluid-resistant masks (the thin blue and white masks) are deemed appropriate for working with Covid-positive patients.
The only time the more substantial N95 masks are permitted to be used is when paramedics are attending to a patient who needs an aerosol generating procedure (AGP) such as suctioning an airway.
The paramedic said: “The peer-reviewed evidence has shown that coughing is definitely an AGP, it does send aerosols across to you, so if you’re wearing a mask that isn’t designed to protect you from them then you’re going to get unwell.
“We’re issued a certain number of AGP-appropriate masks at the start of a shift, and they are to be used only in certain cases. But if we’re going to four or five positive patients that are coughing away them I’m going to want to wear the proper masks.
“They say it’s not a finance thing, but they’re keeping the masks behind a locked door and you have to go and get an officer to get the masks out, and you have to justify why you used that PPE.”
He added: “We will take a Covid-positive patient to hospital, and we’ll be wearing a fluid-resistant mask, a pair of surgical gloves, an apron and some goggles, and then the team receiving them are in the full spacesuit get up.
“It’s not an us-versus-them thing, it’s just the hospital teams seem to have got a bit further ahead in terms of what PPE needs to be worn.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said: “The safety of NHS and social care staff including paramedics has always been our top priority and we continue to work round the clock to deliver PPE that helps protect those on the frontline.
“Guidance on the safest levels and standards of PPE is written by experts and agreed by all four UK Chief Medical Officers.
“Our guidance is kept under constant review and based on the latest evidence.”
A new report, published on Wednesday morning, reveals that almost half of NHS critical care staff have reported post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety or depression.
More than one in seven clinicians and nearly one in five nurses working in intensive care units are reporting thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
NHS staff have repeatedly spoken out about the immense pressure they have experienced throughout the course of pandemic, with one nurse telling HuffPost UK at the end of 2020 that “morale couldn’t really get any lower”.
The paramedic HuffPost UK spoke to said he had experienced mental health problems as a result of the work he had done during the pandemic. He joined the service early at the end of his third year of studies in April 2020 to assist the overburdened NHS in the first wave.
He said: “The anxiety and the stress of managing patients who have left their condition too long, who haven’t called earlier because they didn’t want to burden us, has been so hard.
“The hardest part by a mile is seeing patients who we know aren’t going to make it, regardless of whether or not they have Covid.
“I’ve had probably a dozen of these patients, with a variety of conditions, who have their final goodbye as we’re loading them into the back of an ambulance and their wife of fifty years, husband of however many years has got to say goodbye to them there and then because they can’t come to the hospital is something that will stay with me for a long time I think.”