6 August 2021

Covid rules are trumping decency and common sense in the NHS – I’ve experienced it


How confused does the NHS have to be to reprimand a patient who can’t breathe for coming to the hospital to save their own lives? 

This recently happened to a friend of mine who caught Covid-19. With no previous health issues, she is healthy and full of zest. Then, out of nowhere she developed difficulty breathing and found she couldn’t swallow properly. So she did what any sensible person would have done: She called 111, and following their advice, mind you, made the trip to A&E. 

You would expect that a 19-year-old rushed into a Bristol A&E with breathing difficulties would be treated with compassion and seen immediately. But you’d be wrong. Not only was my friend subjected to a six hour wait for an ECG scan, but she was also reprimanded for coming in at all, despite the fact she was told to do so and had a positive Covid-19 test. In short, a pantomime of chaos whereby hospital staff were shocked that an ill person had entered their midst. 

This seems humiliating. The NHS Covid-19 care pledge states that they have developed processes to “produce rapid clinical procedures during the pandemic.” If this is their idea of rapid procedure, then I’d hate to see them on a slow day. It’s not as if the hospital was overwhelmed with Covid patients either. I checked, there were 7 admissions into the whole of Bristol NHS trust that day. 

Meanwhile, she was forced to wear a mask while breathless, which led to her continuously vomiting and, understandably, experiencing intense anxiety. Even as her condition deteriorated, she was not allowed to see a nurse. 

When she told me her story, I was shocked on two fronts. First by her symptoms – I’d never before heard of this happening to anyone my age. Then by her maltreatment – it was simply unacceptable. This was why Covid sparked such anxiety in the first place; we simply had no idea of the risks to young people. We locked down so the NHS could protect these people, not ridicule them. 

More strikingly, she was told ‘it’s only Covid, you’ll be fine, you can go home.’ Only Covid? Only the virus which has led to the imprisonment of all youth in the continuous drudgery of lockdowns; so it’s all for just a pat on the head from a school nurse and told to go back to lessons? It’s nonsensical and entirely hypocritical. If a severe bout of Covid means nothing to the Bristol NHS trust anymore, then why do Dr Whitty and all his merry men keep going on about it? 

As I recently discovered in hospital myself, her experience is not unique. I was carted to Southmead A&E in Bristol. Not Covid, but anaphylaxis after an allergic reaction to the smallest trace of peanuts. Life-threatening, painful and incessantly terrifying. I was made to wear a mask when the very reason I was in there was because I had lost the ability to breathe. I was struggling, mask donned, spread-eagled in a wheelchair – it was severely dehumanising. 

Long waiting times in A&E are nothing new, and they’re certainly not the fault of the medical staff who have worked hard, not just during the pandemic, but every other day since the NHS’ birth. But Covid regulations in hospitals have strayed away from all the normal pathways of emergency care. In this instance, the NHS is battling with two incompatible forces: the need to treat Covid above all other illnesses, and the need to treat other patients with the same integrity. 

If the constant worry and drives to protect the NHS have led to these type of experiences, what on Earth was it all for? Trivial rules like mask-wearing, to ‘protect others,’ should not be cruelly enforced on people who came to A&E to protect themselves. It isn’t just neglect, it’s a betrayal of the young people who have given up so many of their freedoms in their formative years to ‘protect the NHS’ and ensure hospitals can still treat people. Thankfully, my friend is okay. Yet it makes me wonder about the near 5 million people who are on NHS waiting lists; are they set to face an NHS which is sleepwalking into chaos? 

The NHS needs to start treating sick people as sick people, no matter the illness. This means scrapping the incessant ‘Covid-first’ policy which seems to act as a hindrance towards NHS staff as they are wary of abandoning this new protocol. This may have seemed a dangerous idea in March 2020, but now, with NHS staff and the most vulnerable vaccinated, there is no scientific reason to treat Covid as a rampant killer and prevent normal procedures of care. 

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Alys Watson Brown is a student of Politics with Quantitative Research at the University of Bristol and a contributor to Young Voices UK.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.