Coronavirus: Patients wheeze into oxygen bags. They aren’t even in intensive care

It’s one of the worst affected hospitals in London and is now working at nearly four times its normal critical care capacity because of COVID-19. 

Wards at the Croydon University Hospital in south London – like the one we have been invited to – were once used for looking after elderly orthopaedic patients. Now, they are filled with those suffering from COVID-19 – a disease we still know so little about.

Some of the stricken cough and wheeze into oxygen bags, and these are the less serious coronavirus patients.

These patients have not had to be admitted to intensive care, they are not receiving mechanical breathing support, and there are no teams of alien-looking medics dressed head to toe in hazmat suits wearing goggles.

This is an insight into an “ordinary” hospital ward operating in extraordinary times.

Those here still require an intense, methodical amount of care – care which will need to be 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And all of this care needs to be done while observing the strictest of hygiene protocols to ensure there is no cross-contamination and no spread.

The peak of the pandemic in the UK has yet to come, and no one can really know when that will be, or how this will end.

About half of Croydon University Hospital is already devoted to caring for coronavirus patients.

The hospital’s chief executive, Matthew Kershaw, expects that percentage to rise over the coming weeks and months – however, he appears confident that the hospital will not reach a time when it is entirely taken over by the virus.

The people of Croydon will be hoping he is right.

This disease is not only highly contagious but deadly too. The hospital’s managers are anxiously trying to balance a difficult message that this disease is dangerous and we all need to abide by the social distancing rules and staying at home – without creating unnecessary fear and panic.

Of those who have been admitted to this hospital, about a quarter haven’t survived – and that has taken its toll on the staff who are battling against their own fears over the disease.

Chief nurse Elaine Clancy told us: “Patients are understandably frightened, staff are frightened as well… frightened that they can’t automatically make patients better, they can’t make this better… and they’re frightened for themselves, their loved ones and their colleagues.”

Every single person who is discharged is treated like a lottery winner.

Ward leader Marion Spence told us: “We cheer them on… if this was a football field, it would be filled with people cheering. We give them a good clap and cheer them on… and even on the phone, we tell the relatives ‘It’s good news… she’s coming home!'”

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