SUSPENDED between life and death, these harrowing images from the NHS frontline reveal the true impact of the pandemic.
The Sun was granted exclusive behind-the-scenes access to a hospital battling to treat a “tidal wave” of Covid patients.
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More than 500 beds – two in three – at Northwick Park hospital are now taken up by victims of the virus.
Worse still, the numbers continuing to rise, with many patients previously young and fit.
It was one of the worst hit during the first peak and forced to declare a “critical incident”.
But the “sheer numbers” of patients are now even greater, according to medics working day and night to save lives.
It is why intensive care consultant Dr Ganesh Suntharalingam is pleading with Sun readers to stay at home – and get vaccinated if they are offered the jab.
Critical care capacity at Northwick Park is now full, despite more than doubling to 46 beds.
One nurse on the ward saying the average age of patients was now in their 50s.
And Covid has resulted in geriatric and surgical wards now being taken over to monitor those wiped out by the virus.
Dr Suntharalingam, who is also president of the Intensive Care Society, told The Sun: “It is as bad as I have ever seen.”
He said: “This is completely unprecedented. This volume of critically ill patients coming through the door in large numbers, and at the moment we’re still seeing it rise.
“We’re still seeing the impact of Christmas we haven’t seen the impact of New Year yet.
“This is now worse than last spring. The worry would be this is not showing any signs of slowing down.
“People need to realise this disease that can put you in intensive care.
“There’s a direct connection between how people behave and the numbers in hospital down the road.
“It’s not just the Covid patients, it’s affecting our ability to look after everybody else as well. So for cancer patients being delayed, to not having a knee replacement.
“To Sun readers stay at home, stay safe, get the jab – but do call 111 if you need us.”
There are a record 32,070 patients with Covid on NHS wards, taking up almost one in three off all beds.
Over the last month, London has seen the most frightening rise in demand.
Coronavirus bed occupancy has rocketed four-fold in a month to nearly 7,799 yesterday.
Rachel Tennant, Clinical Director for acute medicine at Northwick Park Hospital, said last Friday was the worst day in her entire 25-year NHS career.
A wave of Covid patients of all ages were admitted after Brits mingled over the Christmas break.
She now warns that unless the public heed the stay at home message, life or death choices will soon have to be made,
She said: “People think it’s affecting the frail and the elderly. What I am seeing is the average working person who can’t do their job from home, usually 50 to 70, but some as young as in their 20s.
“We have seen two or three shop workers in the last few days, a teacher’s husband, bus and Uber drivers.
“We had someone in their 20s who was minutes away from dying this weekend.
“I qualified in 1996, and I have never known pressure like this. This peak started coming between Christmas and New Year…it just went mental and has stayed like that.
“Last Friday was the worst day ever in my experience – just because of the sheer number.
“It’s worse than April. A 50-year-old postman who is healthy with two teenage kids does not expect to be fighting for their life – suffocating and suspended between life and death – not knowing you will see your family again.
“It’s terrifying and it is really avoidable. I get it, we are all fed up of it [lockdown].
“But this is not a conspiracy, this is real. Whatever age you are, you could get really unwell. Please, please do your best to avoid contact with people outside your household.”
Instead of one nurse per patient in intensive care, they are looking after three or four.
That number may have to be diluted further if cases continue to spike.
Professor Stephen Powis, NHS National Medical Director
“The NHS facing the greatest challenge in its history.
To say we are well beyond normal winter pressures is an understatement – 30,000 patients are in hospital with coronavirus.
Everyone in the health service – from nurses to porters and cleaners – is doing gruelling shifts, sacrificing time off and putting themselves forward to be part of the fight against the virus.
And still we have not seen the worst of this pandemic.
To put it bluntly, staying at home isn’t a choice, it’s a moral duty.
Not only could it save a life, but we owe it to our communities and to our brave NHS staff to do what we can.
If you have to go out, I cannot stress enough the importance of following the ‘hands, face, space’ guidance.
The more of us that do this, the more we will stop the spread of the virus, reduce the strain on the NHS and most importantly, save lives.
The rollout of mass vaccination centres offers hope but the responsibility not to become complacent lies with each of us.
I am immensely proud of the lengths that NHS staff are going to for patients in the most testing of circumstances, but we must support their efforts by doing absolutely everything possible to reduce infections, or we will inevitably see more avoidable deaths. I am urging Sun readers – do your part, stay at home.”
Dr Tennant added: “We are literally at the point where we have to make a decision, where we spread staff even more thinly.
“But the quality of care will drop and we are at risk of losing people through basic mistakes because we are dog tired.
“Or we do not offer care to people we normally offer care to, maybe those with the least chance.
“We are currently going for the stretch option.”
The main intensive care unit at the hospital is like the scene from a sci-fi movie.
Staff first don masks, aprons, gloves and eye protection before emerging into the ward through a doorway of thick clear plastic.
Despite the oppressive outfits and relentless workload, staff remain vigilant and focused on saving lives.
But even with a host of medical kit and treatments on offer, they still need the public to follow lockdown or face being swamped.
Tricia Mukherjee, head of nursing, said: “The challenge for us is there’s more patients coming in – how do we cope with that, what do we then do, how do we provide the care that is needed.
“It feels like we are in a bit of a war [with the virus] – a controlled war.
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“We’re in charge of what we’re doing, and we know what to do next and what plans have been put into place to make sure that we are able to cope.
“But that’s reliant on the public doing their part as well. We are doing our job, but they need to do there’s as well.
“It is important people stay at home so we can get control of this virus.”
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