Doctors and nurses 'exhausted' as hospitals reach breaking point

Ambulances outside Queen's Hospital in Romford, London, which has moved into the highest tier of cor

Ambulances outside Queen's Hospital in Romford - Credit: PA

Medical staff at Queen’s and King George hospitals are “stressed, anxious and exhausted” by the second coronavirus wave, according to a letter to stakeholders. 

Frontline medics in Romford and Goodmayes are seeing an increase in younger Covid patients, including many with young children, the Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust (BHRUT) chief executive Tony Chambers said. 

Both hospitals are now close to breaking point, with 471 Covid patients occupying beds as of January 6. Of those, 41 were in intensive care and 86 had tested positive for the virus in the past 24 hours.  

This represents a significant increase on the previous week, when there were 336 patients – although the trust has recently changed the testing equipment used to collate the data. 

During that week, 102 more patients died. This means 1,034 patients at Queen’s and King George have died within 28 days of being diagnosed with Covid since the start of the pandemic. 

King George Hospital

King George Hospital - Credit: Archant

“There’s a human cost for our staff - they’re stressed, anxious, exhausted,” said Tony Chambers, BHRUT’s chief executive. “They’re seeing more younger Covid patients than they did during the first wave.  

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“This isn’t an illness that just afflicts the elderly, some of these very sick patients have children who are toddlers.  

“Our frontline staff have friends who’ve been unwell and friends who have died, the virus doesn’t discriminate.” 

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Some staff have been off sick with Covid and, on a video call last week, one doctor told colleagues “I thought I was going to die at one point”.  

The total staff absence rate across both hospitals is currently 680 (9.5 per cent), of which 51 are in isolation and 173 have tested positive for the virus. 

Tony Chambers is chief executive of BHRUT. Picture: BHRUT

Tony Chambers is chief executive of BHRUT. Picture: BHRUT - Credit: Archant

Mr Chambers added: “I am in awe of what our staff are achieving during a pandemic that is having such a devastating impact on our lives.  

“At extraordinary speed, to stay one step ahead of the virus, they are introducing innovative changes and it is all of our staff who are going above and beyond. 

“When we were under pressure over our oxygen supply, as our oxygen dependent Covid patient numbers continued to rise, it was clinical staff working alongside finance, operations, security and estates colleagues who delivered a solution.” 

He added that staff at Queen’s are working with the London Ambulance Service to help reduce delays when patients are brought in. Last week, a nurse revealed how Covid patients who cannot breathe are being treated in the back of ambulance vans

The number of critical care beds across the two sites has more than doubled from 35 to around 80 during the second wave, while up to 60 “seriously ill” coronavirus patients can be treated with non-invasive ventilation on general wards. 

This has seen King George’s frailty unit converted into an oxygen receiving unit for extremely sick patients. 

Meanwhile, more than 300 nurses and other healthcare staff have been redeployed to help out with the crisis, while local GPs have also stepped in, Mr Chambers confirmed. 

A Queen’s intensive care nurse, Vicky Sullivan, told the BBC’s Today programme this morning about the psychological impact of the pandemic. 

She said: “My worst moment was breaking the news of a death of a relative over the phone. The screams I heard on the other end of that phone will honestly stay with me forever. 

“Telling someone over the phone when all you can say is, ‘I’m really sorry’, while they’re crying their heart out is traumatising.” 

BHRUT recently set up a wellbeing service, including a helpline for staff who are feeling anxious or stressed. 

Cllr Luisa Porritt. Picture: Emilie Gomez

Cllr Luisa Porritt. Picture: Emilie Gomez - Credit: Archant

The government announced, this afternoon, a further 1,564 people have died from Covid, taking the UK’s total death rate over 100,000. 

East London boroughs, including Barking and Dagenham, Redbridge and Havering, have been among the worst hit parts of the country, prompting the Liberal Democrat London mayoral candidate to call for a London-specific public inquiry. 

Luisa Porritt said today: “Londoners deserve answers on how things have turned out so badly. How we ended up with our hospitals overwhelmed, the highest infection rate in the country, and most job losses.” 

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