Staff at The Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust, which runs the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and the Princess Royal Hospital in Telford have been battling against relentless pressure as they work tirelessly to save lives, even in the face of seeing colleagues admitted with Covid-19.
They’ve been scared for themselves, scared for their families, and desperate not to let their patients down, and today they told their stories of what life is really like on the front line in the face of this global pandemic.
Jane Davies is an ITU ward manager. Seeing sickness and death is a regular occurrence for her, but not on this scale. She paid tribute to her colleagues who are soldiering on and trying to keep smiling through the pain.
“The staff have been absolutely amazing,” she said. “They’ve really stepped up and done everything we’ve asked them to do.
“It has been worrying times. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We’re scared for our colleagues and for our families. Everyone is just doing a fantastic job.”
She added: “Our ITU was always like a little family. We’ve always been close and this has brought us closer.
“We’ve had lots of nice messages and there have been donations. The rugby captains gave us a mention on Twitter. So there have been things going on that have boosted spirits.
“We’ve had times where it’s been rough but we really support each other. We’ve got a well-being area where people can go if they need 10 minutes out and everyone knows they’ve got someone to talk to.”
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For all the well-deserved praise she gives though, the stark reality is Jane and her colleagues are seeing people die without their families by their side. Informing loved ones what’s going on over the phone isn’t quite the same.
“It’s hard but we do our best with the families,” said Jane. “We give daily updates and just keep them informed as much as we can. It’s just a really sad situation for patients and families. I’m constantly worrying about our staff and if they’re okay.”
Thankfully many do get better, and staff take an extra bit of joy when they can clap a patient who’s leaving after being in ICU.
“Every one we get out of ICU is a success for us,” said Jane. “We work so hard to get people better and get them out the other side.”
Respiratory consultant Gordon Wood added: “We had a lot of people in last week and a large number of them have got better, which gave everyone a big lift.
“I think we’re tired, but the support we’re getting is making a huge difference.”
He said some staff had needed hospital treatment for the virus, which rocked colleagues, but thankfully they survived.
“We had a few of the staff off with it, and some have been admitted. Fortunately they all got better but it shakes people up.”
He added: “We’re very busy. It’s just a lot more of what we’re used to.
“We’ve got a strong team that works well together. We’ve got enough PPE. In terms of equipment it’s always a challenge. The procurement team are working hard to make sure we’ve got everything we need.”
Procurement staff are some of the unsung heroes in this crisis. They are responsible for buying in all of the equipment needed to battle the virus, and are facing immense challenges as every hospital in the country is trying to get its hands on the same thing.
The main problem is that large companies are being urged to put their PPE stocks through a national system, with packages of stock being arranged 10pm the night before without consulting procurement teams. The team then has to frantically ring round to try and get items the following day.
Helen Lewis, department head of procurement, said: “That’s the issue we’re struggling with. Previously we would order what we need but it’s all changed. We don’t know what’s coming on that push delivery until 10pm.
“A lot of companies have been trying to sell products at excessive prices. Gowns would normally costs less than £1, but one company was offering them for £15. They are not the ones we’re looking at because we need to get value for money for the trust.
“We’ve been working evenings and weekends to try and keep everything stocked up. We’ve been having sleepless nights over it.
“So far we’re keeping everything going. We’re firefighting and doing the best we can.
“Every day seems to be a different challenge. It’s a worrying time and we don’t want to let anyone down.”
Porter Pete Morris has been doing his best to try and calm the nerves of patients and support colleagues.
“We do everything we can to reassure patients. Staff are trying to stay mentally strong. It’s very difficult times.
“Patients are nervous, they can’t be with their families. I really don’t know how we’re keeping our spirits up, but we are. We’re here to do a job, and we appreciate the people around us.”
Meanwhile, amid the madness, cleaning technicians like Amy Middle can be seen buzzing around the hospital, spraying and wiping and doing their best to stop the virus spreading.
Amy is one of 210 cleaners employed by RSH and Princess Royal Hospital in Telford, and despite the grim reality of the situation, she’s still smiling.
“We’re all scared and a little bit nervous but we’re doing the best we can. We’re making sure we’re going over all the touch points and surfaces. There are thousands of them.
“We’re just getting each other through it. The clap for the NHS on Thursdays is quite touching.”
She added: “Patients are obviously nervous. They can’t see you properly because of the masks but you just tell them you’re smiling through the mask and they feel better.”