Coronavirus: 'How long can we keep going like this? About a week'

Coronavirus: ‘How lengthy can we hold going like this? A couple of week’

I’m standing in what should be an operating theatre – but instead it’s been converted into an intensive care unit for Covid-19 patients on ventilators.

This is the first time I have seen it full of patients like this. Normally this theatre would be busy with major cancer surgery, but that’s been transferred to another building.

A children’s recovery area, still decorated with colourful stickers of cartoons, is once again filled with desperately sick adults. Every day, more wards are being transformed into ICU – ready for the next influx of patients.

We have been given access to University College Hospital, in central London. This is the same intensive care unit that I first visited in April, during the first peak.

It is one of the busiest hospitals in the capital and intensive care here is expanding across a hospital that is under pressure like never before, from a relentless rise in Covid admissions.

I am struck by the toll the pandemic is taking on staff. It’s immense – both physically and mentally. They are shell-shocked. “My emotions are all over the place. Scared, sad, petrified, worried,” one ICU nurse tells me.

I asked one of the consultants who I’ve met several times in the last year, Dr Jim Down, how long they can keep going like this – and the answer was stark. “At this rate, about a week. After that we really need to see it slow down or we’re going to see the care we can deliver suffering.”

They have got three times as many critically ill patients in the hospital as normal. The number of Covid admissions to London hospitals has doubled in just two weeks – they’re more stretched now than at the peak last April. Senior staff are worried.

Dr Alice Carter compares it to an elastic band that is close to snapping. “It gets to a point where you stretch so far it never returns back to its baseline. I think that’s probably where we are now. It’s not going to take much more for that elastic band to break, and that’s the real fear for us at the moment.”


About Dilwar Baloch

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