As the number of coronavirus deaths continues to rise, hospitals across the UK are working to create intensive care beds for those who are seriously ill. In an interview with the BBC, an intensive care physician describes the crippling reality of the lack of support and equipment faced by some health professionals in England.
Several health professionals in England told the BBC the lack of equipment in their hospitals. Warned against speaking to the media, they were unwilling to speak publicly. However, a Midlands intensive care physician wanted to record what happened. The BBC agreed to change its name to protect its identity.
Dr. Roberts describes a hospital on the edge. Intensive care is already full of patients with coronavirus (Covid-19). All operations considered non-urgent, even cancer clinics, were canceled. There is a lack of staff, a lack of beds for intensive care, a lack of antibiotics and basic ventilators.
All of this, combined with the impending uncertainty about what the expected peak will be, estimated to hit the UK between 14 and 15 April, means that the hospital staff is already feeling the tension.
However, nothing that Dr. Roberts describes is as alarming as the fact that these medical professionals, who continue to care for critical patients for 13 hours every day, are having to resort to the manufacture of personal protective equipment (PPE) at borrowed clinical garbage bags, plastic aprons and ski goggles.
Dr. Roberts helps her colleagues by attaching garbage bags to their heads
While the public tries to maintain a social distance of two meters, many NHS officials are being asked to examine patients with suspected coronavirus at a distance of 20 cm – without adequate protection.
With potentially life-threatening implications, Roberts says that several departments in his hospital are so afraid of what will come next that they have started to accumulate PPE for themselves.
"It is about being pragmatic. The ITU (Intensive Care Unit) nurses need it now. They are carrying out procedures that risk spreading the virus in aerosols. But they were instructed to wear normal theater hats, which have holes and provide any protection.
"It is wrong. And that is why we are having to put garbage bags and aprons on our heads."
The government has acknowledged distribution problems, but says a national supply team, backed by the armed forces, is now "working day and night" to deliver equipment.
NHS England also said that more than a million breathing masks were delivered on April 1, but not to mention the much-needed head protection and long-sleeved dresses.
Roberts says his hospital has received nothing from the government, and what they have is causing concern.
"The respiratory protection masks that we are using at the moment, all have been labeled with new end dates. Yesterday I found one with three stickers. The first said, expiration in 2009. The second sticker, expiration in 2013 And the third sticker at the top it said 2021. "
Dr. Roberts removes the expiration stickers from the package with a face mask
Public Health England stated that all stored PPE parts labeled with new expiration dates "passed rigorous tests" and are "safe for use by the NHS team". But Dr. Roberts says he is not convinced.
Currently ventilated and under his care, three of his colleagues, all tested positive for coronavirus.
Um, an intensive care doctor who works in a Covid ward, who, like Dr. Roberts, only had access to inadequate protection.
The other two were working in non-Covid wards and therefore were not wearing PPE. However, given the symptoms, Roberts believes the two contracted the virus while at work.
Although colleagues continue to visit, like all other patients, no relatives are allowed anywhere in the hospital.
"The most difficult thing at the moment is having to tell families that you are withdrawing care over the phone. Telling them that your relatives are dying or have died, but we cannot let you see them," says Dr. Roberts.
"Usually, you can tell the relative next to the bed: & # 39; Let's do everything we can & # 39 ;, but I didn't feel able to say that because, at the moment, I can't.
"I can't necessarily give them the best care on a ventilator, I can't guarantee the best nursing care, because the best nurses are being stretched in four ways. We're running out of antibiotics and I can't guarantee all the treatments I know would help them. . "
NHS England says there is no record of how many medical professionals were admitted to the hospital after contracting coronavirus at work.
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However, Europe's two hardest hit countries are counting. The Spanish Minister of Health announced on March 27 that more than 9,400 health professionals had tested positive and, in Italy, on March 30, more than 6,414 medical professionals had been infected.
In the UK, several health professionals are known to have died of coronavirus, including Areema Nasreen, West Midlands nurse, Thomas Harvey, health assistant in East London, Prof Mohamed Sami Shousha, in central London, Dr. Alfa Saadu in North London, Dr. Habib Zaidi in Southend, Dr. Adil El Tayar in West London and Dr. Amged El-Hawrani in Leicester.
Based on projections from Italy and Spain, Roberts says health workers are preparing for the peak to reach in less than two weeks.
"If cases increase as quickly as in Spain and Italy, then, frankly, we will be screwed. All of our overflow areas will soon be full.
"The anesthesia machines we have, designed to work for two to three hours, are in operation for four to five days in a row. We are already experiencing leaks and failures".
Also lacking in PPE, an intensive care nurse in Spain uses a garbage bag and a protective plastic mask, donated by a local company
Extra beds for intensive care, installed in several operating rooms and wards, have nearly doubled the hospital's capacity to support critically ill patients, particularly those who cannot breathe on their own and need to be placed on a ventilator.
However, in expanding critical care, Dr. Roberts says it is nursing staff who are disproportionately affected.
"Intensive care nurses are highly trained and usually provide individual care to those seriously ill. Their patients may be asleep, but they have such a close relationship that they can describe all the hair on a patient's head.
"But now, with these extra beds, nurses are under pressure to care for up to four patients, while providing the same level of intensive care. They are crying and really struggling. They are the most important part of the system, but this is where will fall ".
Stay at home
Outside the hospital's parking lot, Dr. Roberts describes how a new temporary building appeared in the ambulance compartment with just one purpose – to screen all patients for coronavirus symptoms before they were admitted.
It is administered by a clinician who, according to Dr. Roberts, could be taking care of patients. She describes the unit as a "lie detector".
"It is really common for people to lie about their symptoms just to be seen. People who should have stayed at home but are looking for A&E.
"So now all patients are examined in the parking lot, to make sure that those with Covid's symptoms go to the right part of the hospital and don't infect everyone else, like those who came in with a broken arm."
But for Dr. Roberts, it's not just about those who appear on A&E, it's everyone.
"In most hospital employees, we are isolating ourselves when we are not at work, so as not to put other people at risk.
"But the most frustrating thing for us is to see the parks full, or Tescos even more busy than usual. Please stay home."
Charlie Newland illustrations