On 27 January 2021, we were pleased to welcome Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, to Basildon Hospital. Following his visit, the Secretary of State wrote the piece below to convey his thanks to our staff and to the wider NHS workforce.
Last week I joined colleagues at Basildon Hospital. I went to Basildon because that’s where we’ve seen some of the greatest pressures on the NHS. I wanted to thank colleagues for what you’re doing, listen to your concerns and see what more we can do to help.
I started the evening with the team vaccinating NHS staff. We’ve always known vaccines would be the way out of this pandemic and it filled me with such hope to see NHS colleagues getting their jabs. Basildon Hospital is doing a phenomenal job and 90% of staff at Mid and South Essex Foundation Trust have now had a jab.
While the vaccine brings hope to all of us, the pressures are really serious now. Later in the evening I went onto the wards. There’s still 37,000 people in hospital across the UK with coronavirus and each and every one of them is being cared for by incredible colleagues in the NHS. While our new treatments are saving more lives, shocking numbers of people are very ill, and I know that the burden of work is unrelentingly high.
In intensive care—where dedicated colleagues treat our most gravely ill—the situation is even worse.
I met some incredibly resilient colleagues in the ICU, but even they—after nearly a year of relentless pressure—are totally drained. In a more normal year, winter pressures make these some of the toughest weeks for the NHS – but this winter has been like no other. Many colleagues told me the conditions they face today are the worst in their long NHS careers.
I am in awe at the solidarity of the people I met and their compassion and empathy under the most incredible strain. Some colleagues are struggling with the bleak regularity of caring for people who are dying. It was moving to see a doctor and a nurse share between them the painful burden of telling families their loved ones’ situation had changed for the worse.
For families, that news can be hard to compute because when people go into intensive care, they might be struggling for breath but they’re usually still conscious and talking to staff. The deterioration can be fast and devastating. And because families can’t visit, the emotional burden of caring for someone as they draw their last breath falls solely to the staff. It’s a heavy burden to bear.
Later in the evening, I was helping a colleague turn patients in their beds. As we moved through the ward, one of the people we were turning took a turn for the worse. The doctor told him he needed to be put on a ventilator. He knew, as we all did, that his was a difficult battle ahead.
I asked colleagues what more I can do to help them. Even though I asked so many of them, their answers were strikingly similar: “We’ve got to stop the spread of Covid”.
In recent weeks I’ve seen the numbers rise: charts showing capacity being reached and critical care units struggling. But nothing has compared to being on a hospital ward into the night and seeing it with my own eyes – patients arriving breathless and scared while doctors and nurses fight to save their lives.
I’ve heard how many colleagues are cheered that cases are showing early signs of coming down, but it does little to relieve the pressure you are under right now - not yet. After working in such an intense environment for so long, few have had the chance to process the shock of it all. When it comes to supporting those who’ve experienced trauma, there’s a lot that we can learn, including from our Armed Forces. That’s something I’m determined to do.
As I visited the hospital’s well-being hub, one of the doctors from the ward, visibly upset, came to talk. With tears in his eyes, he said to me: "We coped with the first wave. We're coping with the second wave. We mustn't have a third wave”.
The responsibility for that rests with all of us, because what I saw in Basildon is what is happening every night in our hospitals across the country. I’m so grateful to everyone in the NHS, in Basildon and around the UK. Seeing the pressure that you’re working under is truly humbling. The spirit you show: the teamwork, the resilience, the dedication is inspiring. You have my admiration and my thanks – from the very bottom of my heart.
Matt Hancock MP, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care