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Whittington braces itself for a ‘tsunami’ of coronavirus patients

Guidance sent to NHS employees warned they could face 'a range of upsetting emotions', with virus cases set to soar

27 March, 2020 — By Tom Foot

STRETCHED hospitals have called for financial donations and volunteers to come forward amid warnings that a “tsunami” of coronavirus cases is now imminent.

With the NHS facing its greatest ever challenge, the Whittington Hospital in Archway has launched a relief fund to help those who are trying to save lives on the frontline.

More than £16,000 was given in the appeal’s first five days. The hospital has started booking hotels for doctors and nurses facing marathon shifts.

The Government, meanwhile, has called for an army of volunteers to sign up to help – it said it needed 750,000 people – in non-medical roles to help deal with the strain. Yesterday (Thursday), the UK experienced its largest daily increase in deaths from coronavirus.

The total was 578, up by 115 on the previous day. The figure for infections is considered to be a small percentage of the number of people who would have tested positive for Covid-19 if test- ing was more widespread.

Key symptoms are fever and a new continuous cough, although patients can go on to struggle with their breathing. The focus is now on whether the UK can avoid its NHS becoming overwhelmed by new serious cases.

This happened in Italy where the virus has killed more than 7,500.

The Tribune has seen guidance sent to staff who are or will be providing care to patients, with NHS employees warned that they could face a range of upsetting emotions including anxiety and numbness.

The document, sent to Whittington staff by experts at UCLH, says “at peak phases, you may experience surges of adrenaline… over time you may feel like you are running on empty”.

And it adds: “Over the coming days and weeks you will probably find that there are times when you feel anxious, stressed, scared, sad, overwhelmed, angry, guilty, helpless or even numb.”

Professor Hugh Montgomery, who has been working on cases at the Whittington, told Channel 4 News on Tuesday that it could run out of beds by the end of the week, although the hospital insisted this was not an accurate picture.

Nursing staff from across the UK have posted the same simple plea on social media: “We came to work for you, please stay home for us.” Heath Secretary Matt Hancock said a new hospital – which will be called the Nightingale – is being prepared at the Excel Centre in east London. It will have capacity for 4,000 coronavirus patients.

It was claimed that home-testing kits, which would show if somebody had already had the coronavirus and might now have some immunity, would soon be available at Boots and online at Amazon.

At the Whittington, Tony Rice, chairman of the Trust’s Charitable Funds, said of the new relief fund appeal: “Our staff are currently working around the clock to ensure that all of our patients, including those with Covid-19, receive safe, effective and compassionate care.

“This means having to work longer shifts than usual and additional pressure and stress.”

The appeals for help come against a backdrop of a national row over whether NHS staff have the kit they need to protect themselves from infection.

There have been several reports of missing PPE – personal protective equipment – leading to criticism from the British Medical Association.

Its chair of council, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said: “A construction worker wouldn’t be allowed to work without a hard hat and proper boots. Even a bee-keeper wouldn’t inspect a hive without proper protective clothing.

“And yet this Government expects NHS staff to put themselves at risk of serious illness, or even death, by treating highly infectious Covid-19 patients without wearing proper protection.

“This is totally unacceptable. It’s time for the Government to be transparent about the level of supplies we really have.”

Shirley Franklin, of the Defend the Whittington Hospital Coalition, said: “Many staff are also not being tested for coronavirus. This is incredibly risky for them, their families and their patients.

“Our thoughts and thanks go to the heroic staff at the Whittington Hospital. They have just been judged as outstanding for care and community care by the CQC. But then we always knew they were super caring.”

To donate to the Whittington Relief Fund or organise a donation visit https://www.justgiving. com/campaign/supportwhittington

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