'Shellshocked' London doctor warns the UK: 'Coronavirus is coming… you need to be prepared'
Words by ITV News Producer/News Editor Roohi Hasan
"Shellshocked" from the "nightmare" he’s witnessed, a frontline hospital doctor has said people simply "aren’t comprehending how bad" the coronavirus crisis is.
An intensive care doctor at one of the London hospitals hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak has spoken to ITV News about the nightmare he has witnessed in the last week and paid tribute to his colleagues.
His appeal as he emerged from his shift "shellshocked" and scared was simply: “People aren’t seeing it, so are not comprehending how bad this is.” He added: “This is just the beginning of a nightmare.”
London's hospitals have been the epicentre of this crisis in the UK so far, with one north London trust this week confirming 21 deaths in the space of three days.
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Impact on staff
Reflecting on the impact of his recent shifts treating a growing number of critical patients with Covid-19, the doctor, who would like to stay anonymous, said: “My personality changed working on this… I was shell shocked…frightened… I still am.”
He describes how he and his colleagues were all initially confused and “really scared’’.
"I’ve seen a lot of colleagues - men, women, older, younger - in tears crying because of the tragedies of the people who have died. They are just exhausted, in despair," he said.
On the scale of the crisis
He believes the upset is also because this crisis is "unprecedented".
"Nothing ever has come like this…not in my career or anyone’s career. Not in a generation. Or for anyone alive today.”
He went on: "This country has never seen anything like it. Not since the Second World War."
Significantly, this doctor believes that "we don't know how many people are affected but I can guarantee its more than the number of people who have presented".
On the spread of Covid-19
“We are just at the foothills of this compared to Italy,” he warns.
"It is the same virus, there is no reason to expect it to behave any differently. It has come with a lightening bolt."
“Now we know’s what’s coming, it is not a dream. I know it's not going to calm down, it’s going to be relentless."
On the UK's national lockdown
This is why he has welcomed the news of a national lockdown this week, calling it “critical”.
“We just have to try and arrest it in whatever way we can. We need it to suppress it, at least to try and catch our breath… at least to try and cope… as we can’t cope even with what we’ve got.”
He added: “I think it needs to be at least three weeks at least” explaining that “incubation itself is two weeks so lockdown for less wouldn’t help. So it needs to be a few weeks for those who haven’t manifested yet else theywill continue to spread it to others, as its dormant for two weeks.”
'They don’t realise they are costing people’s lives' - people who don't listen to lockdown rules
Having emerged from tough long shifts treating those with Covid-19, the doctor told us of one of his upsets, as he and his colleagues were flabbergasted to see some people still going out.
He said: "What really gets my goat when people say (the lockdown) is too far… people saying its too extreme …They simply have no idea of the chaos going on around them as they haven’t seen it."
“They are just being irresponsible and selfish. They don’t realise they are costing people’s lives.”
He explained: “You may be asymptomatic or young or fine, but you will come into contact with someone vulnerable and they will end up hospital and chances are they will come to ITU.”
And he admitted wearily: “We may come to a point we cant do our best for them.”
Hospitals 'need to be prepared'
“It is coming…you need to be prepared.”
This is the stark message he has for hospitals nationally where the virus hasn't hit yet.
How coronavirus could change the UK
On a positive note, as the doctor reflected on the last week, he said he’d been "overwhelmed" not just by the scale and speed of it, but also by the commitment of his colleagues.
“I’m overwhelmed also by the unity of people, how people have volunteered just to help people out,” he told ITV News.
“Doctors and nurses have been asking how they can help, senior doctors acting like healthcare assistants, moving patients around, people coming in when off and giving up their time."
He added: "That is the thing I would take out as positive of this. How people have pulled together. I take my hat off to them.”
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