LONDON – The UK pandemic is gaining strength fueled by a mutated strain of Covid-19 and the country’s health care workers are paying a heavy price.
The virus has already killed more than 76,000 people in the UK – the worst death toll in Europe and the fifth worst in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University. Hospital stays are reaching new highs.
Another 68,053 confirmed cases were announced by the government on Friday – the highest number in a single day – and it was the eleventh day in a row that more than 50,000 new cases were reported.
“It’s gone completely crazy,” said Ben Shisha, a medic with eight years experience who works in and around London and has been on the front lines of the pandemic since March.
Schischa, 39, said emergency calls from people confirmed or suspected of having Covid-19 had “exploded exponentially” compared to a week or two ago.
Shisha said he saw patients waiting in ambulances for hours until the hospital had enough room for them. A patient he picked up waited six hours outside a hospital the day before, he said.
“This is just one example of what’s happening. And it’s the same everywhere – London, Kent, Essex,” Shisha said, referring to the counties in southeast England that are hardest hit. “It’s become like a war zone again.”
The deepening crisis and news of the new strain are taking a psychological toll. He is plagued by the thought that he will bring the virus home to his family. “They just don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.
England and Scotland have put in place new national locks to curb the spread of the mutant strain and prevent Britain’s beloved taxpayer-funded National Health Service from collapsing on Monday.
“Our hospitals have been under more pressure from Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic than ever before,” said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, announcing the new restrictions.
By Friday, London Mayor Sadiq Khan declared a “Serious incident“In the capital’s hospitals, admitting that the health system is“ in danger of being overwhelmed. ”Hospitals would run out of beds in two weeks if the spread of the virus doesn’t slow, he warned.
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“Everyone is very overwhelmed. Hospitals are very busy,” said Dr. Jon Williamson, an anesthetist newly hired to treat Covid-19 patients in the intensive care unit at Whittington Hospital in north London.
With the unit filled with Covid 19 patients, the latest wave is very similar to that in March. Patients arrive very sick and need high-level care.
“There is constant pressure in the intensive care unit,” said Williamson, who, with the hospital’s permission, documented the Covid 19 crisis with his camera and published the results on his Instagram account.
He said he and his colleagues are able to manage the situation by transferring critical patients to other hospitals when they run out of beds. But he’s concerned about what could happen in the coming weeks if hospital stays and deaths catch up with the skyrocketing case numbers.
“You will suddenly reach a point where all of the above together fail and the whole system will suddenly reach capacity,” he said. “The system hasn’t failed yet, but it’s incredibly stretched.”
On Monday, the UK’s medical chiefs said many parts of the healthcare system were under immense pressure, with significant numbers of Covid-19 patients in hospitals and intensive care units.
“We’re not confident the NHS can handle another sustained surge in cases,” a statement said. “And without further action, there is a significant risk that the NHS will become overwhelmed in several areas over the next 21 days.”
It’s not just other people’s health that they worry about.
During the first wave last spring, more healthcare workers in the UK died from Covid-19 than anywhere else. according to compiled figures in July from Amnesty International. The Authority found more than 540 health and welfare deaths in England and Wales – just behind Russia.
And nearly 60 percent of doctors suffer from some form of anxiety or depression. 46 percent say their condition has worsened since the pandemic began a survey published last week by the British Medical Association.
Almost 70 percent said their tiredness and exhaustion were higher than normal as they cope with the daily record falls and a growing backlog of care.
The NHS is facing a “perfect storm” of immense workloads and downsizing, warned the chairman of the association council, Dr. Chaand Nagpaul, on Monday.
“Doctors are desperate,” he said.
A spokesman for NHS England said in a statement emailed Monday that the surge in Covid-19 cases across the country means all hospitals remain “extremely busy”.
Dr. Rachel Clarke, a palliative care specialist at a hospital in Oxfordshire, a county north-west of London, recalls, appalled by images from New York City in April of overwhelmed hospitals and people being treated outside in tents.
“I feel like we are in this world to some extent now,” said Clarke, 48. “We don’t have patients in tents, but we have patients trapped in ambulances sitting outside of the hospital, because we can’t physically take her to the hospital. “
Clarke said staff at her hospital were desperate and exhausted, and many had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder from the first wave.
“You’re in the same situation again,” she said. “You keep checking out patients for patients with the same symptoms, the same disease. And sometimes you talk to them because you know there is a high probability that they will be dead in the morning. It is so painful to be there the second time around . “
Dr. Julia Grace Patterson, a psychiatrist who heads doctor-led advocacy group EveryDoctor, said she was concerned about the mental health of first responders reliving the trauma of the early days of the pandemic.
“There wasn’t really a period of decay or release or the ability to process any of those things,” Patterson said.
Health care workers never really relaxed between the pandemic climaxes as they caught up on surgeries and appointments that were postponed or canceled during the first wave. “There was really no break for her,” she said.
Another layer of distress is the amount of misinformation, said Clarke, who regularly tweets about what she sees on the front lines.
“From people who say you are a liar to a ‘scam’, it’s not real and you are a shame,” she said. “I had death threats and rape threats for standing up and saying how serious Covid-19 was.”
But even though they are tired and desperate that things will be different, healthcare workers are still putting on their scrubs and putting patients first time and again.
“They’re giving the patients everything they have,” said Clarke.