Staff nurse tells committee of ‘terrifying’ experience of contracting Covid-19

Siobhán Murphy says she was off work for 12 weeks and physically crippled with fatigue

Siobhán Murphy, a staff nurse, tells an Oireachtas committee about her "terrifying" ordeal of contracting Covid-19 and the ongoing effects coronavirus continues to have on her physical and mental health. Video: Oireachtas TV

The Oireachtas committee on Covid-19 has heard that health care staff were experiencing burn out, fatigue and post-traumatic stress as a result of dealing with the pandemic over recent months.

It also heard a minimum of 5,000 additional nurses and midwives, as well as additional beds, more equipment and space to provide care for Covid-19 and non-Covid patients was required.

Staff nurse Siobhán Murphy, who has been off work for 12 weeks after contracting Covid-19, told the committee of her “terrifying” experience.

She said she was healthy with no underlying conditions. She said she was competent in using personal protective equipment but along with 12 of her 20 colleagues on a Covid-19 ward, she contracted the virus.


She said she was physically crippled with fatigue, had headaches and shortness of breath. She said she had to go to the emergency department as her condition was deteriorating at home.

She said she was unprepared for the psychological impact of having Covid-19 and living with the disease.

The head of the health division of the Fórsa trade union Eamon Donnelly said if there was a second wave, it would be very difficult to call on the same group of people to provide the same response.

“We are not going to be able to deal with a second wave without the ability for a a fluid migration of the workforce into the health service and we have to be upfront about that.”

He said while the country was in a better place to deal with a second wave of Covid infections in terms of testing and tracing, health staff were “pretty much at burn out”.

The general secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation Phil Ní Sheaghdha said her union's members were exhausted and could not bear facing into the idea of dealing with another wave of Covid-19 with the protections that were in place.

She again called on the Government to allow the Health and Safety Authority examine the high infection rate among healthcare workers.

Ms Ní Sheaghdha said the health service needed 5,000 additional nurses and midwives.

She said she was concerned that some student nurses were traumatised by their experiences in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic and that some could decide to leave the system.

She said there were 1,700 of these nurses and “we need every one of them”.

Siptu deputy general secretary for the public service John King told the committee that the policy of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform of not including overtime and premium payments to those health workers who had to go on sick leave was "wrong".

Siptu, in a submission to the committee, said some workers may have not declared they had Covid symptoms to their employers for fear they would have to take 14 days away from work and lose out on such aditional payments.

Mr King said he did not have evidence in relation to the numbers of such staff.

“The point of putting (this assertion) into the submission was to draw attention to the fact that this was a policy that did not work because it served as a disincentive.”

Siptu honorary vice president Michele Monaghan, who is also a radiography manager , said staff were not nearly at burn out, they were at burn out.

“You had to be there and to work through it. Nobody can get what you had to go through to be there.

“The first thing you learn as a healthcare professional is to leave the emotions at the door. Don’t take your patients home with you.”

“But we took every Covid patient home with us. Because no family was allowed in to see them. And the burn out, the stress, the fatigue for those who did not get Covid, who had to do double shifts, additional call, additional everything. This needs to be recognised and a response put in .”

“What do we need to meet the capacity needs?. The answer is more. More staff, more equipment, more everything. Otherwise it is not going to work.”

Ms Ní Sheaghdha said her members who contracted Covid-19 wanted practical post traumatic stress support. She said a telephone helpline was not sufficient.

“They describe what they are now enduring as post-traumatic stress and are saying they are fearful of the ability of their employer to keep them safe.

Ms Ní Sheaghdha said nurses should receive more frequent breaks on their work shifts. She also called for an end to the derogation arrangement under which staff who had been inclose contact with a person with Covid could be asked to return to work by managers if the service was short staffed.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is the former Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent