Consultants at City Hospital Birmingham have spoken out to share a hopeful message for anxious residents as coronavirus cases rise rapidly.
Dr Sarb Clare, acute medical consultant at City Hospital, said the next fortnight was “critical” – but the hospital was “fully open” for patients with and without coronavirus.
“We are feeling the pressure but we want all patients who are not well to come into hospital – we are here,” she said.
“The next fortnight is critical. We are predicting the situation will get worse, and we are definitely seeing more patients with Covid,” said Dr Clare.
“But we have a positive outlook – we know this is the only way it can go. Us being negative and moaning is only going to bring us down further,” she said.
“We do not know how long we are going to be in this for – barring a working vaccine, we could be looking at further surges, so we are focussed on getting on with it.”
Her comments came just before we learned that University Hospitals Birmingham was cancelling all elective ops this month in a bid to stay on top of rising emergency cases.
All planned ops at the Queen Elizabeth, and gynaecology procedures at Good Hope, would be axed for now.
It comes after weeks of warnings from UHB chiefs that the hospitals were at a tipping point.
At City and Sandwell, around 20% of the trust’s beds are now filled with Covid patients, around 150 patients in all.
That is expected to rise substantially over the next month.
Elective ops and other services are also under review because of mounting pressure.
But she said she wanted to be clear that people with other conditions must continue to access acute care.
“In the first wave our non covid patients stayed away. People were very scared – even those suffering with heart attacks and strokes were sitting at home and did not get help.
“This time round patients are coming in and we need them to keep doing so.
“We do not want to scaremonger patients, we know we can manage these two streams (Covid and non-Covid) safely.
“We have already bolstered our rosters in readiness; there has not been the same sense of urgency as in the first peak.
“Our outpatients and surgery lists are still going ahead but we are reviewing those daily.
“The next two weeks are absolutely critical.
“This is my plea to the public – if the public stick to rules we can still deliver services and the care people want for both Covid and non Covid patients.”
Politics plays a huge part in all our lives, much more than we immediately realise.
News and updates on the world of politics seemed to become much more important than ever during the coronavirus pandemic as we waited for news of the Government’s responses to the crisis and how it affected our daily lives.
You can get all the latest politics updates in our BirminghamLive daily newsletter. Sign up here or fill in the box at the top of the article.
There are all the Government briefings and announcements as well as new laws, decisions on the economy that affect businesses and our personal finances, policies on benefits such as Universal Credit and of course local and national elections that decide who represents us.
There’s also all the news from Birmingham City Council and other Midlands authorities on housing, education, bin collections, roads, transport, public health and so much more. And how much council tax they’ll charge us for delivering those services.
Dr Clare, who is deputy medical director for Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals – which runs City and Sandwell hospitals – also gave cause for hope for those who became ill with the virus.
She said treatments were improving as medics learned more about how best to attack the virus.
There has been “a definite increase in numbers coming through our front doors and a definite rise in admission rates” over the past fortnight, she said.
“But we are seeing a different type of patient cohort than during the first wave – a lot of younger patients in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s, who are young for this illness, and they don’t have any medical problems at all.
“They are quite sick but now we know much more about the illness we have treatments that keep them out of intensive care, it is really helping.
“We now are using steroids, know more about proning (putting patients on their front during treatment), and use of oxygen and not intubating as early, and they are really helping.
“We have learned a lot about this illness – but just because we know this, it is still vital people realise this remains a deadly illness, we are still seeing deaths.
“But we are learning how to manage it better.
“As a team of doctors, nurses, allied professionals we are wary, we did not want to be in this place of seeing cases rise so much, but we are ready and resilient.”
Her upbeat outlook is at odds with messages emerging from other hospitals across the country.
University Hospitals Birmingham’s chief executive Dr David Rosser has voiced the desperate anguish of staff about the crisis.
He said experienced staff who lived through the trauma of the first wave of Coronavirus were “apprehensive and distressed” as they see cases rise daily.
“I have never seen a clinical team as distressed and apprehensive as they are at the moment,” he said.
“People I have been through a lot with in over 25 years in the organisation are saying: ‘I’m not sure I can go through this again.’
“It’s very tough in the hospitals.”
There are currently more than 350 Covid patients at the Queen Elizabeth, Heartlands and Good Hope hospitals, compared to around 130 in City and Sandwell hospitals.
But for both settings that’s a huge rise on the number of cases a month ago, with expectations that both will see significant increases in the next fortnight as community cases translate into hospital admissions.
Research reveals that, so far, the second wave of the pandemic has mostly affected younger and fitter patients and outcomes have been better – but that is changing rapidly.
A soaring infection rate among older age groups was among the reasons cited for a national lockdown, with hospitals preparing for an influx of severely ill over-60s this month.
Said Dr Clare: “This lockdown is incredibly needed. Personally I think it should have come earlier but we are where we are.
“We fully appreciate the disappointment and sadness for the public, and the frustration, of lockdown, we feel it too, but if we do this well it can only get better.”
She also spoke of the pressure facing medical staff in the hospitals.
“When I am doing my ward round in a Covid area, I am in full PPE, from 8am til midday. It is tough and very sweaty and exhausting mentally, you have little communication with patients – it is hard to see and for them to see your eyes and smiles and get reassurance.
“But our nurses are incredible. Doctors come in and out, but nurses on a shift are there for eight hours.
“I have been astounded by my team, the care and compassion they have given has been phenomenal.
“When we had the first surge we had rapid change, lots of adrenalin – but we prepared ourselves.
“I would say staff are not down or frightened – we are focused on getting on with it.
“We have done a lot around well being for staff. We have The Sanctuary rest area, energy pods where you can lie down during shifts for a break, a lot of counselling and talking, a book club, rest areas.
“This was started just before the pandemic and we have intensified it.”
She also said that the first wave saw lots of love from the community, and the weekly claps, and donations of food were all welcome, but now the mood is different.
“This time all we want is for people to stick to the rules, no food, no clapping.”
She urged people to stay safe and follow the guidance.
“Some people do not understand what is happening. Once this virus touches people it’s a lightbulb moment. Only when they connect to it do they seem to act.
“Our communities were hit really hard by the first wave – I don’t want people to go through that again.”
A second consultant who works across several hospitals locally said it was vital that concerns about coronavirus did not keep people away.
“This current surge has come upon us much more slowly than the first, and the cases we see are different so far.
“We have also got a lot smarter and better, and our decision making has developed, with more research to rely on.
“Obviously there is a time lag and the situation could change as more older people become ill.
“The challenge we have is to ensure those with acute conditions are still treated.”