We are used to senior health officials such as the Chief Medical and Chief Scientific Officers as well as health trust managers appearing on our television screens or in newspaper interviews outlining the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic.
While they try their utmost to bring home to everyone the absolute necessity to obey lockdown regulations and act responsibly in the interests of the whole community, it fails to bring home the personal impact of what life is like on the front line in hospitals. ICU nurse Amanda Smith in her interview in this newspaper today puts harrowing personal detail to the statistics, detailing the pressures on staff, how doctors may literally have to decide who may live and who may die if intensive care beds run out, and the traumatic death bed scenes hospital staff witness.
Her account of the impact of the pandemic on hospitals is stark and an indictment of how the health service was allowed to wither on the vine, particularly in Northern Ireland where there are some 3,000 vacancies in the service and where there was no political oversight for three years when the Assembly folded until the restoration of power-sharing almost exactly a year ago.
According to Amanda staff have been warned that there could be 149 Covid patients in ICU in the coming weeks as the record numbers of new cases feed through to hospital admissions. That would demand 28 more beds than are available. It is not the shortage of beds which is the problem but of trained staff to look after the desperately ill patients in them with Amanda saying that ICU specialist nurses — who should look after patients on a one-to-one basis — may soon have to look after four at a time aided by support staff.
The shortage of ICU facilities means some patients could be taken off ventilators to make way for others deemed to have a better chance of survival. It is almost impossible to imagine the pressure that would put on staff. Already they have to endure seeing Zoom calls from relatives to loved ones in hospital who are dying. And death can come swiftly as patients give up the will to live. Little wonder staff are off with stress, others have gone to other organisations or left the profession altogether, and ICU nurses have taken early retirement.
Anyone reading Amanda’s account cannot fail to be moved if they have an ounce of humanity in them and will do all in their power to avoid spreading the disease. It is the most searing personal account of people going beyond the call of duty.