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Intensive care prof: Where has the empathy gone for exhausted NHS?

Warning that current wave of coronavirus crisis is ‘bigger, harder and nastier’ than last time

29 January, 2021 — By Calum Fraser

Professor Hugh Montgomery

THE current wave of Covid-19, which is “brutalising” hospital staff, is “bigger, harder and nastier” than last year, a leading care consultant warned this week.

Professor Hugh Montgomery laid bare the devastating impact of the health emergency on NHS staff, adding that they now feel there is less “empathy” in the public compared to the days of doorstep clapping.

Professor Montgomery, who works in the critical care wards at the Whittington Hospital but was speaking in his capacity as a member of the Intensive Care Society of Great Britain, said: “We are now a long way into wave two or three, depending on how you classify it, and it’s very hard for staff. We are all worn out and fed up, in the same way as the public is.

“If you’re the nurse at bedsides in the acute ward and you are watching patients die every single day, sometimes several patients dying every day – that’s a brutalising experience.”

According to the most recent data available, there are 168 beds taken up by Covid patients at the Whittington including 12 of the sickest who have been intubated and are on mechanical ventilation.

Last week, the Archway hospital recorded 20 deaths.

“This wave is certainly bigger and harder and nastier than the first one was,” Professor Montgomery said.

“But it’s interesting isn’t it, everyone is just fed up. Do you hear anyone clapping on a Thursday? No. Does anyone really care? No.”

He added: “If you go out, you see the roads are full. People are fed up with it. I don’t think there is very much empathy or sympathy for NHS staff anymore.”

The UK officially reached the grim milestone of 100,000 overall Covid-19 deaths on Tuesday.

A majority of these deaths are people aged 75 or over.

But, almost a half of all deaths have occurred in the last three months and in that time there has been an increasing trend of younger people being admitted to hospital.

Professor Montgomery said: “We are seeing what does look like a signal, we are seeing more pregnant women this time around than we did before. That does look like a real signal.”

Pregnant women with Covid-19 have to be separated from other expectant mothers on the labour ward and often their children are delivered through emergency caesarian before being taken away to be monitored.

Consultants are also seeing more “families affected en masse”, Professor Montgomery said, with parents and children admitted to hospital.

“It’s a very very contagious disease,” he added.

“And I suppose, maybe part of the reason we saw big family clusters, I’m guessing, might have just been the New Year and Christmas effect.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has faced criticism for the mixed-messaging around how the public should act, especially with the last-minute changes around Christmas.

There is hope now that the roll-out of coronavirus vaccines in the UK may bring an end to the cycle of virus spikes and lockdowns.

More than three-quarters of all over 80s have received their first dose, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said.

Professor Montgomery warned, however, that people who had already received the injections – most have so far had their first dose but not a second booster ­– could not simply slot back into normal life.

“The vaccine does not provide 100 per cent protection for everyone forever,” he said.

An NHS spokesman said: “The Covid-19 vaccines begin to provide a high level of protection after around two weeks of a vaccination. It is important to note that even when you have received your vaccine, you must continue to follow government guidance on social distancing and wearing a mask, as well as the additional measures in place in your area.”

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