Doctors and nurses in the town have been working “flat out” for the last 10 months and, with an ongoing surge in coronavirus cases expected to continue, there is no let-up in sight.
“We are feeling under pressure and have been for quite a long period of time,” said Dr Ed Smith, Consultant in Emergency Medicine and Care Group Director for Medicine at Scarborough Hospital.
“We’re anticipating it will get worse before it gets better.”
Concern has been growing nationally about the state of the NHS as the number of coronavirus patients needing hospital treatment increases.
England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said that if the virus continued on its current trajectory “many hospitals will be in real difficulties, and very soon”.
He said that unless cases come down, emergency patients will have to be turned away from hospitals and staff ratios will become unacceptable, causing “avoidable deaths”.
Dr Smith said: “It is the toughest time I’ve ever faced in my career. Quite a lot of doctors and nurses have been very distressed by what they have seen.
“We’re asking for people to play by the rules and help reduce the rate of transmission so we can get the numbers down and give people every chance to get better.”
Dr Smith, who has been a doctor for 25 years, including the last 14 in Scarborough, said coronavirus has added an extra level of complexity to what was already challenging work.
The PPE requirements are tough on staff. The masks required for some procedures are particularly burdensome and nurses face shifts of up to 12 hours wearing the heavy equipment.
“It’s hot to wear, and some of the masks required for some procedures are claustrophobic” said Dr Smith.
“It’s difficult to hear people talking through and people who are hard of hearing who used to lip read can’t through the masks, so communication is difficult.”
The pandemic has led to an increase in patients with mental health issues and, as a manager, Dr Smith says it is making sure he has enough people to staff the hospital that is his biggest challenge.
Like any workplace, they have been hit by workers having to self-isolate.
“The workforce pressures – that’s what gives me sleepless nights,” he said.
In his clinical role, he is in charge of the emergency department and may find himself dealing with any case that comes in, from coronavirus to sick children, heart
attacks and other emergencies.
While there was a dip in coronavirus cases during the summer, the hospital was still busy with admissions because Scarborough was so popular with holidaymakers.
“Everyone at Scarborough has been going flat out since March. We’ve not had a break,” he said.
Hearing about members of the public flouting the restrictions aimed at cutting coronavirus cases and easing the pressure the NHS is facing is hard, said Dr Smith.
“It’s difficult. Most healthcare workers have adhered to the rules because they understand that it only takes one contact to pass this incredibly infectious bug on to someone else and most of us know the impact of that in the healthcare world.
“It’s very disheartening to see people behaving in that way, especially when we have got the hope of the vaccines not that far away.”
He understands people’s frustrations but said everyone has a responsibility to help manage this crisis and no-one is exempt.
He also stressed that the hospital team is here to treat the people who need them, and Scarborough staff are dedicated to caring for their patients.
“Everyone is tired and exhausted but everybody is pulling together,” he said.
“I’ve seen that a lot in Scarborough, it’s a close-knit team.
“It’s the resilience of the Scarborough team that is most striking. They’re used to pulling together as colleagues and are able to lean on each other.
“If anyone can do this, the Scarborough team can.”