A New Zealand paramedic who helped in Britain’s fight against Covid-19 has taken some time off after the pressures of the job took a toll on his mental health.
Aaron Chisholm from Dunedin moved to London in early 2019 where he works for London Ambulance. A few months ago he had Covid-19, suffering mild symptoms. He's now clear of the virus.
In December he received his first shot of the Pfizer vaccine and is awaiting his second shot in a few weeks’ time.
Since the first wave of coronavirus in March he says the pressures of the ever-increasing and relentless 24/7 workload treating Covid-19 infected patients for ten months caused him to snap.
"We had an elderly patient in the house who was Covid positive, wasn’t coping, didn’t have enough clinical need to be in hospital, knowing that they’re full. There are no beds for these people, but also I just felt we were essentially abandoning this woman at home.
"There was no support for her and I just had a bit of a meltdown in the house and my crew mate had to take me to the side. It was completely overwhelming," he said.
In recent weeks the demands placed on health care workers across the capital have soared, with no let up in sight. It comes as the UK’s death toll surpassed 86,000 after a further 1,248 fatalities in a single day.
"It’s non-stop work... 16 hours without a break. We’re waiting hours and hours at an hospital to hand over a patient over to the clinical team, because there is no team there, we’re treating patients in the ambulance outside in the driveways and in the carparks," the paramedic said.
Inside London’s St Thomas hospital’s intensive care unit it’s a similar situation - understaffed, under resourced and overwhelmed. Charge Nurse Jenny McGee from Invercargill told 1 NEWS she has to be strong while comforting her colleagues, many who are emotional, wrung out and exhausted.
"On a day to day shift there are nurses in tears. I refuse to let it affect me. I have to go to work and perform. I don’t know where my mental toughness comes from and I don’t know how long it’s going to last but for now it’s important for me to stay positive," she said.
While she credits her work colleagues for pulling her through each shift at home she credits her partner Eugene and new puppy Gerry for taking care of her.
"I come home and I’m spent. I’ve got no energy left. I park up on the couch and demand a foot rub," she laughed adding "they’re the reason why I can keep going and do what I am doing."
"Eugene is the loveliest partner who looks after me and he can’t understand what I’m going through cos he’s not there, no one who’s been in intensive care can really understand what it’s like and how stressful it is and he tries to understand and he listens. He’s a lovely partner and I am very very blessed."
A new study by King’s College London found as many as 600,000 frontline workers, one in five will need mental health support.
"Mainly those people will be OK with support in time and the chance to rest but we know sadly a substantial amount will go on to develop full blown mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and post-natal depression," Mental health leader for the British Medical Association Andrew Molodynski, said.
He added there's a mental health crisis growing silently in the midst of this pandemic with tens of thousands of carers, who will in turn need caring for, in the months to come.