'This is real' - Inside South Tyneside Hospital's ICU and the emotional and physical challenges NHS heroes are facing

The emotional and physical challenges on the frontline of the fight against coronavirus have been laid bare by a doctor battling daily in ICU.

By Fiona Thompson
Tuesday, 26th January 2021, 9:22 am

Dr Paul McAndrew, a consultant in intensive care medicine and anesthetics, is the deputy medical director of South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Trust, which has intensive care units at Sunderland Royal Hospital and South Tyneside District Hospital.

Both hospitals have seen a rise numbers in Intensive Care Unit patients in the second wave of the virus as staff continue to work to their limits to help patients.

The latest figures showed 26 new admissions with 221 Covid patients in both hospitals 12 of those are on ventilators.

A patient is cared for by South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Trust during the pandemic.

Dr McAndrew said: "There is no doubt that Covid has made us busier in the second wave and we’ve certainly seen an increase in admissions, both to the hospitals and to intensive care as a result of Covid.”

The consultant hit out at conspiracy theories and said: “This is a novel respiratory global pandemic that is not made up – this is real.”

Frontline staff who have been working with Covid patients for almost a year now are tired, he said, but keep going that extra mile for their patients.

“They’ve been working at this level for nigh on 12 months now, and in a winter when you’re busy.

Dr Paul McAndrew of South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Trust .

"You do get tired and you do need time to step back and reflect and look at the bigger picture.

"Everybody is being asked to do something extra.

"I think at every level of the organisation, people have stepped up to the mark, but that creates an impact on them.”

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Patient levels have risen during the second peak of the pandemic.

One of the biggest emotional and physical challenges his team faces is PPE.

He explained: "Wearing PPE for long periods of time is physically and mentally draining, it can be very uncomfortable, but it’s necessary.”

Giving an insight into what the ICU and covid wards are like, Dr McAndrew said: "There is a spectrum of the illness, from the people who are very sick and in the intensive care unit, to people who are on the ward, getting better or having just come in.

"If you came in you might see patients on the recovery phase, and I think it is important to emphasis that there are a lot of patients in the recovery phrase.

“If you went into the intensive care you would see there is an awful lot of people doing a professional job, looking after these patients.

"We will have patients who are on breathing machines, we will have patients who are on trajectory for recovery, coming off breathing machines.

"But what you will always see is doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, students looking after these people to the best of their ability, as they do for any patient, Covid or not.”

Dr McAndrew urged people to stick to the rules to have a ‘better chance of getting back to a more normal life sooner rather than later.’

He said: “Normal is being redefined, just because we have vaccine programme, just because we have new treatments coming on board, that doesn’t take away the impact of this disease and the risk you have of catching it and associated mortalities of it.

"People need to maintain their discipline.That is what will get us out of this.”

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