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Coronavirus: Belfast intensive care consultant urges anyone eligible for flu vaccine to get it before winter viral surge

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Call: Dr Catriona Kelly

Call: Dr Catriona Kelly

Call: Dr Catriona Kelly

Anyone eligible for the flu vaccine must take up the offer to prevent a devastating coronavirus surge during the winter months, it has been warned.

Intensive care medicine consultant Dr Catriona Kelly, who works in Northern Ireland's Nightingale hospital, said she hopes the region is through the worst of the first wave of Covid-19.

Distressing scenes from the likes of Italy and London, where doctors and nurses have struggled to care for critically ill patients, have not been replicated here and Dr Kelly said staff are relieved that, to date, they have not had to ration critical care treatment.

However, she stressed that there is still a serious threat from coronavirus, particularly if there is a surge in the winter months when other viruses are circulating.

"As we know, when it comes to flu season every year there is an additional workload to what we would deal with on top of the trauma patients and those with brain injuries, and we can reach capacity fairly quickly," she explained.

"The possibility of a second surge of Covid-19, I do think we will be in a better position to deal with it.

"Certainly, we have increased the number of ventilators and intensive care beds but that has to be tempered by the fact that we need doctors and nurses, and staff will always be the limiting factor.

"Anyone who is eligible for the flu vaccine should go by their general practitioner or medical consultant's advice; certainly the staff body working in critical care would have a high uptake.

"Every year I get my vaccination and it is even more important as we are potentially faced with a second surge at the same time as flu patients in intensive care.

"It's very hard to predict what is going to happen; this is a disease we didn't know about three months ago."

While hospitals in Northern Ireland have not reached capacity, Dr Kelly, who has been an intensive care consultant for six years, said staff have still been working in a challenging environment. She described the fact that families are unable to spend time with their loved ones when they are critically ill as "one of the most difficult things to deal with".

However, she ruled out the possibility of allowing families to visit patients in ICU in the current climate on safety grounds.

"We're so used to having families around the patients' beds in Northern Ireland so that has been difficult, but the majority of people are understanding of the risks," she said.

"The level of personal protective equipment we have to wear at all times, we have to have masks specially fitted, so it would be hard to keep visitors safe. There have been a lot of reports on social media about patients being on their own, but they aren't alone.

"We're a family in intensive care and we treat every patient as if they are a member of our family.

"We're working longer hours and the PPE we are wearing is hot, so it's physically and mentally demanding.

"We've had to try and communicate with our patients by writing things down. It can be scary enough to waken up in intensive care but even more so when everyone is in masks - it's like something out of a science fiction movie.

"I actually had a patient recognise me the other day just from my eyes, and seeing patients getting better and go to a ward and eventually go home has definitely been good for morale."

Belfast Telegraph