Coronavirus: Frustration and anger in the hospital corridors

You will have heard the visceral, heartfelt pleas from exhausted NHS staff working on the frontline of the coronavirus epidemic, urging us all to play our part in the fight. Begging us to take responsibility.

And on the corridors of a major London hospital I visited yesterday, there is a palpable sense of frustration, disbelief and anger. The question on the lips of every doctor, nurse and member of support staff I spoke to was: "Why are people still gathering in crowds?"

I have in the past week found myself unexpectedly returning to the highest risk category given the threat of the pandemic and owing to my ongoing treatment for leukaemia. Not the best of timing for me or my fellow patients for regular trips to the hospital but needs must. So, I put on my mask, wrapped my face up in a scarf and wore gloves before making my way to the specialist unit.

The corridors were eerily quiet by the usual standards of this hospital.

ITV News Editor Geoff Hill has been classed as 'high risk' to Covid-19 due to his ongoing leukaemia treatment. Credit: Geoff Hill

Normally staff weave their way through the thousands of patients and their visitors, but they accounted for the vast majority of people I could see. Some told me they are awaiting testing for coronavirus, others about plans to convert unused theatre wards and general medical wards to deal with the expected increase of Covid-19 cases.

Make no mistake, the images of thousands of people across the country failing to observe the basic rules of social distancing over the weekend have caused great concern here, and a real sense of fear, amongst NHS staff who are genuinely worried about the impending deluge of patients suffering with the coronavirus.

One nurse told me he went for a walk on Sunday but was shocked by what he saw: "I found myself telling members of the public to keep their distance. They were behaving so irresponsibly. It was unbelievable."

Another told me about their journey into work, and her fear of navigating the still crowded public transport system: "There are strong words I would like to use about how some people are behaving, but I am trying to stay calm."

Some parks have already taken it upon themselves and closed their gates. Credit: PA

The phlebotomist was perplexed by the lack of common sense on display: "They don’t think. That will change, of course. It will have to change, but I worry that it will be too late. Why is this still happening?"

As I wrote last week recalling my experience of three months’ self-isolation after a stem cell transplant, what is needed is an immediate and fundamental shift in the mindset, a clearing of the diaries and a sudden acceptance of a new, time-limited normal.

This is not a civil liberty issue. It’s not a lifestyle choice. There aren’t any days off for good behaviour, or when it’s sunny, or to celebrate special events.

Whatever your views on the lockdown, its extent or the speed at which we have arrived at one - the advice on social distancing, and most importantly the need to keep two metres apart even when outdoors, has been clear since the prime minister urged us all away to stay from pubs, restaurants and leisure centres last week.

Hospitals are warning the public not to enter unless they have an appointment in a bid to limit the spread of coronavirus. Credit: Geoff Hill

When I was in recovery from my initial luekaemia treatment nearly two years ago, the stakes were high enough - my safety and well-being depended on me following the rules. This time around, the stakes couldn’t be any higher for me personally, which I find unsettling, but also for society at large, including the most vulnerable and those risking everything to treat them.

The doctor told me today that as someone who has to self-isolate it is still important to go for a walk and get fresh air, provided I stay at least two metres from everyone at all times.

"The fresh air won’t protect you, you still have to keep your distance," he told me.

"I’m amazed that people are still walking so close to each other, pushing past each other and not waiting by park gates until it’s clear to walk through them. People have to exercise more caution. Let’s hope that will change."

The staff I spoke to will have been hugely reassured by the announcement of the lockdown. They have been begging us for some time to behave responsibly and to heed the warnings. Perhaps now they will get there wish. They fear that left to their own devices, rules on social distancing won’t be respected by everyone.

And that will have a catastrophic impact on precious NHS capacity.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know